It looks like you are using an out of date browser.
Please update your browser in order to use this website.

News  › 
Top News Survivor of sexual exploitation wins legal battle for compensation

Survivor of sexual exploitation wins legal battle for compensation

A survivor of modern slavery has been awarded £22,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) after they rejected her initial claim.

Sonya* was a victim of child sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation. Due to the serious nature of the injuries she sustained as a victim of modern slavery, Sonya was entitled to compensation under the UK Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS), which is administered by CICA.

The CICS exists to compensate victims of violent crime in England, Scotland and Wales. In 2012, it was amended to improve access for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking – but in reality, survivors face many barriers to accessing it.

Sonya made an application to CICA and then waited for many months before being told in 2022 that it had been denied. The response stated that the survivor did not cooperate as far as reasonably practicable with the police in bringing the perpetrator to justice. Sonya felt threatened by the traffickers who had told her they would harm her if she went to the police, and that she would not be believed. Despite this she did make an initial report but she did not feel the police understood the gravity of her situation or that they were able to keep her safe, so withdrew her cooperation in the investigation.

Survivor’s application rejected

Sonya told us: “When my initial application was rejected, I found this difficult because I had worked with the police as far as I could, but eventually I lost faith and trust in them. I felt let down and disappointed.”
She added: “The CICA process is very lengthy, which seems to be the way with lots of processes for survivors of human trafficking. This can be re-traumatising. It can feel dismissive. If I didn’t have Hope for Justice involved, I would have just left CICA after I received the negative decision as I would not have known how to challenge the decision.”

Advocating for the survivor

One of Hope for Justice’s Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSAs) began working alongside Sonya in 2022. Our advocates help to ensure survivors can access legal advice and support services, including advocacy to access compensation. We referred Sonya to a joint project that Hope for Justice, the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU) and a pro bono solicitor are co-developing. The project enables survivors access to pro bono legal advice because there is no legal aid available for survivors of human trafficking who want to apply to CICA; in fact, this is explicitly excluded under law (aside from at CICA appeal stage).

Exceptional Case Funding is in place to provide legal aid to those who would otherwise suffer a breach of a Convention or EU right. However, a report on this subject by ATLEU finds that “the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) does not accept that an application to CICA involves the determination of Convention or EU rights and so routinely refuses applications.”

CICA Project

To bridge this gap in provision, under the joint CICA project, Hope for Justice refers survivors to the pro bono solicitor, who give their time to help draft representations on behalf of survivors.

Hope for Justice assisted Sonya to gather police records and extensive medical records, along with evidence from other organisations that she had worked with.

The pro bono solicitor drafted a letter to request a review of the CICA decision. Hope for Justice then worked through the letter with the survivor, explaining its contents, and with the survivor’s consent, submitted the request for a review in 2023.

CICA then reviewed their original decision and made an award of £22,000 to the survivor.

‘Life-changing’ compensation

Sonya told us: “This money is life-changing. I could not believe it when you first told me the amount, I put the phone down and cried. I didn’t fully believe it until the money reached my account. The money will help massively towards my future. Most of it will go towards a deposit for a house which will help provide me with a sense of safety as I can move somewhere I feel safe. It gives me back some control after not having any control over my housing for so long.”

Our IMSA who worked alongside Sonya said: “We are delighted that this collaborative work has resulted in a positive outcome for the survivor. No amount of money can ever compensate for what a survivor of modern slavery has been through, however this award will be a huge help towards the client moving forward.”

Without legal aid, survivors must cover their own costs, such as those relating to subject access requests or specialist medical legal reports, or to have an interpreter if they do not speak English. Few if any survivors are able to represent themselves, as the CICS is so complex.

Urgent review of CICS needed

A spokesperson from ATLEU said: “This is a wonderful outcome for Sonya. We were very concerned by CICA’s refusal of Sonya’s initial application, and were glad to be able to ensure she could access justice through our CICA Project with support from pro bono solicitors. The fact that her claim was initially refused demonstrates the need for an urgent review of the scheme to improve decision making for survivors. With this award, we hope that Sonya can now begin to move on and rebuild her life.”

Hope for Justice has found that CICA has limited experience of dealing with survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. This means that further representation is often needed to demonstrate why the survivor is eligible to receive compensation.

Ellie Russell, our UK Advocacy Manager said: “This case shows the importance of advocating on behalf of survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. Without the right support and access to legal representation, this survivor would not have received any financial award. We are thrilled that she has now been awarded compensation and that this money will help her with her future.”

Jess Phillips, who as MP for Birmingham Yardley had worked with the survivor, said this on X (formerly Twitter):

“Shed a happy tear this morning for this woman. First time I met her I knew she was the hope for change, battered and bleeding but determined and simply one of the cleverest woman I’d ever met. She will change the world. Thank you so much to @Hopeforjustice”

*Name changed to protect identity of the survivor

young girl