In a Manchester conference room in early March, surrounded by bottles of hand sanitiser, members of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s Forum met to discuss the hugely important issues of accountability and redress. We had no idea the world as we knew it would be turned upside down by coronavirus within weeks, but it still feels important to share the positivity that came out of that day. We cannot simply put our lives on hold while we fight this disease.
Redress was not a term I was familiar with before joining the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel in 2017. I thought it was something to do with changing your clothes when you’d been caught in the rain. But there is no shame in not knowing its proper legal definition. It is a means of seeking relief or remedy, often involving compensation.
When I was 18, I was awarded £6,000 in compensation for the sexual abuse I’d suffered as a child. That seemed like a huge sum of money at the time but it never crossed my mind I might need it to pay for professional support in my adult life. Naturally, I blew it very quickly on a car I never drove, a music system, eating out and pleasing others in order to feel liked and accepted. Now at 40, I have nothing to show for it. But the truth is the money wasn’t important to me; I would rather have never been abused in the first place.
I recently began wondering what I would spend that money on now if I still had it. After some quick calculations, I was shocked to discover my financial award amounted to 0.2p per day if I live as long as the average Welsh woman (82). With that, I could probably afford one therapy session a year but I wouldn’t have much change left over. It’s quite devastating to consider that someone thought this was what my experiences of child sexual abuse were worth. Although I know I’m still one of the so-called “lucky” ones.
When it comes to redress, the clearest message from Forum members was that everyone wants something different. We don’t want to be held against a checklist of cause, impact and effect. However, through our discussions, we did agree on the following principles:
We want accountability.
We want those at the top of organisations to be held accountable for the failure to protect children and acknowledge the impacts on victims and survivors.
We want apologies.
Not everyone agreed, but the general consensus was that we also want apologies. We want them from the people and institutions that failed us, and we want them to genuinely mean it. There is no point in apologising if you’re not willing to change the way you work to protect children. It is truly meaningless if children are still being sexually abused decades later under the care of the same institutions.
We don’t want underhand tactics.
We do not want non-disclosure agreements, which are just another form of silencing victims and survivors. It’s guilt wrapped in secrecy with a hint of dishonesty and shame. You can’t be held accountable if you won’t own up to your failings. Nor do we want to be met at the steps of court with an out of court settlement. Again, it’s shady, underhanded and another way to silence us. One Forum member, who this happened to, said she felt that the lawyer was simply doing all they could to defend their clients.
We don’t necessarily want financial compensation.
The biggest myth surrounding victims and survivors is that all we want is money. I know so many who are still waiting for an apology, for an institution to accept accountability, for their therapy and - yes - some are waiting for financial compensation. But I believe there is no shame or guilt in receiving money for the sexual abuse you suffered. If it helps you pay that important bill, or allows your family a much needed holiday, or that yoga retreat you’ve been eyeing up, then why not. If it makes your life that little bit easier for a short time then embrace it, without fear of other people’s lack of understanding.
We want meaningful and beneficial recovery toolkits.
Many Forum members wanted redress to include therapy, not for six weeks but their entire life. It was agreed that the conventional form of counselling didn’t suit everyone. Instead, they want compensation awarding bodies to think about different types of therapy, such as music, art and poetry. Finally, we want awarding bodies to acknowledge that child sexual abuse has a devastating, immeasurable impact on all of us.
Emma Lewis is a member of the Victims and Survivors Panel at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse