Yet another example of a substantial settlement in a child sexual abuse case has come out of the United States. At the end of November, the news broke that the Los Angeles Unified School District had agreed a settlement worth $139 million for 82 victims in a lawsuit seeking to hold the School District liable for the abuse committed by Mark Berndt at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. Lawyers for the victims alleged that the School District had knowledge of Berndt’s prior abusive behaviour, and should therefore be held liable. Berndt is currently serving 23 years in prison, having pleaded no contest to 23 counts of lewd acts on a child.
The considerable size of this settlement means that the 82 plaintiffs will, on average, receive around $1.7 million. This considerable sum by no means neutralises the suffering experienced by the survivors, both at the time of the abuse and in years since. However, these awards and settlements are at least some acknowledgement of the impact that abuse has on the survivor’s life.
Contrast this to the settlements awarded to survivors in the UK, which usually range between £10,000 and £50,000. Compared to the awards in the United States, these are pitiful, demonstrating that our legal system does not understand the tragic effects of child sexual abuse. We must do better for survivors in the UK - the status quo is simply not good enough.