Suggestion is widespread in the media that survivors of abuse, particularly in 'historic' cases of sexual abuse, make their allegations in order to claim compensation. The implication is that many allegations are fabricated for that reason. Leaving aside the possibility that there exist some sad, mad or bad individuals who would lie about such an awful experience for financial gain, survivors who come forward to tell their story and seek justice have to undergo this excruciating decision-making process: should I put myself through the scrutiny that will be inflicted upon me if this case comes anywhere near a court? Monetary compensation is categorically not the burning issue.
In my research with people who have been abused, it was clear that the primary need of a survivor is not financial. What a survivor actually needs is to tell their story, and to hear the perpetrator accept full responsibility for the abuse inflicted and apologise. I cannot stress strongly enough how far these key outcomes would help in healing victims. Yet apologies for the deep agony and existential trauma abusers have caused their victims are like yetis – we think they might exist, but who’s ever seen one? The harsh reality is that restorative justice rarely occurs precisely because perpetrators invariably refuse to accept any responsibility for their destructive actions. A court case in which a jury convicts a perpetrator who clings to his innocence in filing a ‘not guilty’ plea is a poor second best to a full apology, because withholding what the victim needs is just one more way of hurting them and maintaining control of their lives.
Having said that an outright apology would go a long way to healing the deep wounds caused by the abuse, I come to the issue of compensation. I want all the finger-pointers to know about the actual cost of being a victim of abuse. Think of the damage done like a 'cancer of the spirit'. Healing is a lifetime’s investment. The costs are difficult to assess and for many will never be met. How many people can afford hefty consultation fees? Without compensation, as in the vast majority of cases, quality counselling and therapy are a non-starter. I say in the vast majority of cases, since most victims are either too frightened to come forward, or would receive little compensation anyway. Not all perpetrators are rich and famous. For anyone without funds, counselling is rationed within a beleaguered NHS where there is a waiting list and often a restriction on how many sessions a survivor is allowed. Yet in order to heal, a survivor needs months and often years of ongoing, good quality, specialized support.
A committed finger-pointer might ask: Why don’t survivors just get themselves help? Apart from the many who are so crushed by the effects of their history that they are unable to reach out for what they need, for the many survivors who do get help under their own steam my point is this: It costs! And not just financially. Psychotherapy is painful and can be thoroughly debilitating. A commitment to heal from abuse is like allowing chemotherapy to be applied to the soul. One survivor estimates that good quality therapy, beyond what she received from the NHS, has cost in the region of £5,000 - so far. Add to this her loss of earnings through bouts of depressive illness; add to that her suffocated career prospects in the highly competitive job market where one has to be full of self-confidence not self-loathing, and the figure could run into tens of thousands. But who knows the true cost? The one thing we can be certain of is that some days are so bleak and annihilating for a survivor that he or she cannot function at all. The survivor in my example had the 100% support of her partner and friends through such times. Not everyone has such good fortune.
I ask the cynics, who wish to brand the ‘claim’ of an abuse victim as a cynical means of financial gain: could you put a costing on the life of a seven-year old, sexually assaulted by a relative she should have been able to trust? Or of a thirteen-year old anally raped by someone who was the pillar of his community? Would you suggest £5,000 for therapy? £10,000 for therapy and lost earnings? £30,000 for a year out from work in order to get over a botched suicide attempt? Or £250,000 for a life-time of anguish, self-harm and depression?
The true cynics are those who want the poor old perpetrators to be left alone. I would rather press the poor old perpetrators for sincere apologies and honest acceptance of culpability. The money is a secondary issue. Yet think on this: if someone crashed into your brand new sportscar when they were drunk and they apologized when charged, you might be inclined to forgive them. But would you really refuse to claim any compensation and be happy to pay for all the damage yourself? After all, why would you want to burden the poor old drunk driver?
Apart from stating the obvious that a person’s life and mental health need to be treated as much more important even than a Ferrari, what if some of those trillions in quantitative easing had been diverted into the NHS to train and provide quality one-to-one counsellors and therapists? That would surely have helped the fourteen year old I know who recently disclosed that she was sexually abused when she was four. She was allotted six sessions of counselling. To say that that is a tiny drop in the vast ocean of pain through which she will have to wade, would be immeasurably lower than an understatement.