THE BLOG

Every Victim Of Abuse Deserves An Apology

07/11/2016 11:37

The Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police has apologised to the victims of serial paedophile Allan Richards this month, for letting them down by failing to investigate the allegations against him earlier. This failure allowed Richards' crimes to go undetected for a number of years and led to the abuse of many others, which could have been prevented.

Victims of abuse are victims of some of the most heinous crimes committed in our society.

Where a wrong of the magnitude of Richards' crimes is committed, there is no question that an apology must be the first step towards acknowledging that wrong and demonstrating respect for the victims. In fact, to not apologise in those circumstances would be objectively insulting.

One of the first social and moral lessons we learn as children, is the importance of apologising; whether it is for being mean to our siblings or misbehaving in front of guests, we are told to say sorry. And as we grow older, we realise further the importance of apologising in righting wrongs. Yet, the value of an apology as a remedy in law continues to be undermined.

Victims of abuse will have often experienced a violation of their dignity and betrayal of trust, which can have a huge impact on their emotional and psychological well-being. An apology can play an invaluable role in their healing process by addressing the very personal nature of the harm suffered, restoring the victims' dignity by validating their experience and confirming that they did not do anything wrong.

Many victims of abuse carry a burden their whole life, thinking that they are to blame in some way for what happened. An apology has the power to shift that burden and blame from the victim to the wrongdoer.

But, the law has failed to recognise this.

There is currently no legal requirement for an apology to be offered to victims of abuse. The significance of an apology is, at present, overshadowed by an unfounded fear that it will be seen as an admission of guilt, that the individuals making the apology may incriminate themselves and this will lead to litigation.

But this is baseless. The Compensation Act 2006 states explicitly that an apology on its own will not amount to "an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty". So why don't more defendants apologise in the knowledge they can fall back on the Act? Ironically, it is in response to being antagonised by a lack of recognition that most victims resort to litigation.

Time after time, we are also told that those who were in charge when the abuse occurred are no longer around and so the institution concerned has nothing to apologise for. This is irrelevant; a certain level of responsibility will always lie with the most senior representative of the offending institution, irrespective of whether he or she is personally implicated in what happened - as their role requires them to acknowledge the wrongs of the institution's predecessors.

Without any legal footing, whether an apology is given rests very much on the "goodwill" of the wrongdoer and if a request for an apology is denied, there is not much the victim can do to overcome this refusal. This can exacerbate victims' feelings of powerlessness, which reminds them of their experiences and emotions during the period of abuse itself.

Every victim of abuse deserves an apology. And this is why the law must change.

Bolt Burdon Kemp's "Apologise Now" campaign is seeking to do just that.

We are not looking to tear up the existing framework and create a new legal remedy, because an apology is already available to victims of defamation and discrimination - the law clearly recognises the importance of an apology in some cases to restore the damage to the victims' reputation and the hurt caused to their dignity. Why then should this right be denied to victims of abuse?

Help us change the law, by tweeting @BoltBurdonKemp #ApologiseNow

Zahra Awaiz-Bilal is an associate solicitor with Bolt Burdon Kemp in London, specialising in compensation claims for survivors of abuse

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