Passport Control

The US State Department recently announced that it would begin marking child sex offenders’ passports with a sentence noting their conviction. The policy was part of “International Megan’s Law,” legislation passed in 2016 and named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from New Jersey who was raped and killed by a neighbor with previous child sex offense convictions.

The new passport regulations are intended to help protect children from sexual abuse, including sex tourism and sex trafficking. We hope the new passport regulations will prevent child sex abusers from travelling to other countries and hiding their convictions, where they may be able to abuse children with impunity.

It is our hope that other countries will take note of the United States’ approach and will introduce or strengthen safeguarding measures to ensure that child sex offenders are not able to cross borders and continue abusing children.

Justice for children in foster care

The Supreme Court recently reached a decision on NA v Nottinghamshire County Council, a case we have been following closely. As we have previously discussed, the Supreme Court was deciding whether or not to hold local authorities vicariously liable for abuse perpetrated by foster parents. We were hopeful that the Supreme Court would agree that local authorities should be held vicariously liable, as foster homes are similar in structure to care homes, because both environments serve to care for children and protect them from dangerous or harmful situations.

We are glad to see that, as of 18 October, the Supreme Court has decided to hold local authorities vicariously for abuse perpetrated by foster parents. This decision is a huge step forward for those seeking justice for abuse suffered as a child while in a foster home. Children placed in foster homes should be able to enjoy the same degree of protection and consideration as those in care homes, and we are pleased to see that the Supreme Court agrees.

We are hopeful that this decision will encourage anyone struggling with a legacy of abuse in foster care to come forward and pursue justice.

Child sexual assault victims to be granted compensation

In a groundbreaking decision on behalf of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), child victims of sexual abuse will no longer be denied compensation on the mistaken belief that they consented to the relationship. The guidelines have been changed to take into account grooming, in which children are manipulated into sexual abuse and may be led to believe they had a hand in their own abuse. 

We are glad the CICA has changed its guidelines, as we often see in our experience with clients that grooming is a common pattern in abuse. Grooming makes young people incapable of consent feel that they are responsible for the abuse another has perpetrated against them. No one should have to feel that way, and we commend CICA for recognizing this fact and changing its policies accordingly. 

Florida school district blames children for own abuse

A school district in the state of Florida appears to have blamed four nine-year-old children for being sexually abused by a teacher. Over ten years ago, the students reported that their teacher groped them and forced them to touch him inappropriately over his clothes, but nothing was done about the teacher. When the students' parents found that prior complaints had been made against the teacher, they sued the school district for negligence. 

The school district responded by saying that "Plaintiffs were old enough to appreciate the consequences of their own actions and to be held accountable for them." After receiving criticism for their statement, the district defended their statement, saying they had "never taken the position that a child could be implicit in their own child abuse."

The teacher ultimately pleaded guilty to the child abuse charges and surrendered his teaching license, and the school district settled with its plaintiffs for $3.5 million. 

While we are glad to see that these plaintiffs received justice, it is unconscionable that the school district could have suggested the students were responsible for their own abuse. Children under the age of consent are simply not old enough to be held responsible for their own abuse. We hope to see this culture of victim-blaming end so that anyone who was abused as a child feels confident in coming forward. 

What about foster children?

In a widely documented case now being heard in the Supreme Court, NA v Nottinghamshire County Council, the Court of Appeal held that a local authority could not be held vicariously liable for wrongful acts committed by a foster parent.

While local authorities have traditionally been held vicariously liable for wrongful acts committed by staff in care homes, this liability had not yet been extended to abuse by foster parents. This has been upheld by the Court of Appeal despite the fact that care homes are often operated very similarly to foster homes, with multiple children being housed under the same roof with paid 'parents' looking after them.

The court's reasoning was that foster parents do not have a relationship 'akin to employment' with the local authorities who select them, so the local authorities cannot be held vicariously liable for their acts. But ultimately, the goal of both foster homes and care homes is the same; to care for children and protect them from dangerous or harmful situations. While foster parents are not technically employees, they are selected to care for children and paid for this responsibility, just like staff in care homes. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of local authorities to take care when placing children with foster parents, and to take responsibility when abuse occurs.  

We hope the Supreme Court will rule in favour of the claimant in NA and hold the proper authorities liable, so that those who were harmed by the very people supposed to be protecting them are able to seek justice.

Revised child sexual "consent" rules promote victim blaming

Earlier this month, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) revised its guidelines for providing compensation to victims of child sexual abuse. The new guidelines state that not all abuse victims will be eligible to receive compensation, depending on the circumstances of the abuse, because “consent ‘in fact’ is different from consent ‘in law.’” In other words, under the revised guidelines, even in child sexual abuse cases where the abuser has been convicted, if the victims are deemed to have consented, no harm is seen to have been sustained.

In our practice, we are painfully aware of the reality that children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults. These guidelines will make it far too easy to place blame on victims, arguing that they “consented” to sexual activity, even in cases where they were groomed or manipulated by an abuser. For children and adults already dealing with the trauma of abuse, the last thing they need is another barrier to seeking justice. We urge the CICA to reconsider its policies and to draft guidelines that will offer victims the support and compensation they need to get their lives back on track.