Taking Legal Action
The law relating to child abuse is very complex. This section is a very broad outline of the law, specifically looking at what remedies are available and how different procedures work. It relates to English and Welsh law only; although the law is similar in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the procedures are quite different.
It is very important for survivors to think carefully about taking legal action. All legal proceedings are extremely stressful, proceedings for child abuse, even more so. Given the current rate of convictions, it is important to feel that this step is the right one to take, whatever the outcome. Help and advice is available from Victims Support. Remember, the decision to take legal action is yours and yours alone, but HAVOCA seriously recommends you take the decision in consultation with a therapist.
There might be various reasons for taking legal action: to prevent future abuse, to have one’s pain publicly acknowledged, to feel vindicated, to obtain financial compensation, to punish your abuser etc. Everyone is different and individual victims will have their own level of motivation for pressing charges. A survivor of abuse needs to have a clear set of goals and they also need to fully understand the implications of beginning proceedings before the journey starts. Careful thought and consideration also needs to be given to the outcome of the trial. Some survivors feel completely at ease after a trial and can move forward, but others are left feeling empty and directionless. Inevitably you also need to consider the implications that the case goes against you. Preparing for this outcome is important and in some ways will drive your motivation for proceeding.
The two main areas of law that apply to child abuse cases are criminal law and civil law. The purpose of criminal law is to punish the offender (although financial compensation can be claimed), the purpose of civil law is restitution, i.e. trying to make good the ‘damage’, usually by means of a financial award.