Victims of sexual abuse who understandably try to bury memories of their suffering can jeopardise their right to compensation if they delay speaking out. However, as one High Court case clearly showed, specialist lawyers can be trusted to listen sympathetically and guard the victim's confidentiality.
The case concerned a 36-year-old man who had endured an extraordinarily difficult early life and whose criminal offending had begun at the age of just four. After being taken into care, he was sent to a school for troubled boys that was run by a religious order. Although he left the school in the 1990s, it was not until many years later that he disclosed to professionals the abuse that he had suffered.
In upholding his claim against the order and the diocesan authorities that ran the school, the Court found that, when he was aged 12, he had been raped by one of his teachers whilst on a school trip. A culture of corporal punishment had persisted at the school and he had been slapped several times by teachers.
In allowing the claim to proceed despite the long delay in launching proceedings, the Court accepted as genuine the man's explanation that he had been deeply ashamed and embarrassed about the abuse and had been reluctant to talk about it to anyone. Little prejudice had been caused by the delay and a fair trial of his claim remained possible.
The Court noted that the man had, unusually, escaped long-term psychiatric injury. He had moved on from his traumatic adolescence and had settled down with a wife and family. In the circumstances, he was awarded £14,000 in damages to reflect the pain, distress and humiliation of being preyed upon by a teacher who should have been looking after him. The award was mainly in respect of the rape, but included £2,000 for injury to his feelings and further modest sums in respect of the physical slaps. The man's anonymity was carefully protected throughout the proceedings.