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.

Football child sex abuse claims

Tommy Beale, Senior Associate, AO Advocates

Football teams are known for being very male-orientated environments. Players are encouraged to be brave, competitive, and avoid showing any signs of weakness. In this type of environment, it can be very difficult for victims of sexual abuse to disclose what has happened to them. They may worry about how their teammates will react, be fearful of upsetting the team dynamic, or afraid to speak out about abuse by a coach if the coach is particularly well-liked and respected by the team.

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In the news again: sexual abusers in Government

Child sexual abuse is in the news again with reports that police are investigating claims against a senior Labour MP. The claims were passed to the police by a Conservative MP, who heard numerous allegations of abuse from multiple sources over a long period. It is alleged that the Labour MP sexually abused children, including two teenage boys in a mental health facility, for over 10 years.

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