Voyeurism victim's lawyers call for reform of criminal injuries compensation law
Woman denied compensation because she wasn't victim of â€˜crime of violence'
Lawyers for a victim of voyeurism whose claim for compensation has been declined have vowed to press for a change in the law to widen the current scheme to individuals affected by new digital-age crimes.
Bronwyn Watson's stepfather had made secret videos of the young woman, a teenager at the time, in the family's bathroom. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to taking indecent photographs of a child and voyeurism, and was sentenced to seven months' imprisonment.
Watson's application to the Criminal Injuries and Compensation Authority was initially declined on the basis that it didn't meet the requirement that there should be a crime of violence. CICA's decision was overturned by the First-Tier Tribunal but, last week, the Administrative Appeals Chamber allowed the authority's judicial review, restoring the original decision.
The judge found there had been no threat leading to a fear of immediate unlawful violence in the case, ruling out the possibility of compensation.
'As the law is currently, it will be an uphill struggle for victims of voyeurism and other sexual offences that can take place from a distance by the use of relevant technology and equipment to establish that they are eligible for an award of compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme,' Watson's solicitor, Anna Jackson of Switalskis, told Solicitors Journal.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Act, Jackson said, needed to catch up with new offences such as the one Watson had been a victim of. 'Our client suffered an extreme invasion of privacy and bodily integrity,' she said. 'The crime had a substantial impact upon her mental health, but she is not entitled to compensation in the circumstances. Had she become aware of her stepfather committing the offence in person, she would almost certainly have received compensation as the intention would have been communicated to her. There is a gap in the law and reform is required to ensure that victims of such offences are entitled to compensation for the psychological harm that they suffer as a result.'
The 2012 Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme provides that applicants may be eligible if they sustain a criminal injury where they have been 'a direct victim of a crime of violence committed in a relevant place'. This includes physical attack, a violent act or omission that causes physical injury, threat causing fear of immediate violence, and non-consensual sexual assault.
'The scheme, as it stands, is perhaps outdated and needs to be amended to reflect the digital age and a change in how offences are being committed via the use of technology,' said Jim Littlehales, a barrister at Switalskis, who appeared for Watson. 'Digital-age offences such as child grooming over the internet would not, for example, fall neatly into any of the categories under the scheme, although they may cause severe psychological harm.'
Littlehales said other examples included revenge porn, where the victim can suffer mental health problems as a result of the offence, which is not technically covered under the scheme at present.
'For victims of voyeurism and other sexual offences committed via the use of technology to be entitled to compensation, an amendment would need to be made to the scheme,' Littlehales said. 'A provision should be added to annex B of the Act to cover any offence against the person that resulted in psychological or physical harm. This wider scope would ensure that victims of crimes of this nature would receive the compensation that they deserve.'
Watson was six months old when her stepfather came into her life. She was only told that he wasn't her biological father when she was 12.
Her mother died in 2010 after falling into a coma following a horse-riding accident. Her stepfather changed after that, becoming aggressive and, she said, intimidating.
During her stepfather's trial, Watson gave evidence of sexually explicit behaviour while she was still a teenager. A few years later, she came across a memory stick which contained video recordings of herself stepping out of the shower.
Watson reported the finding to the police, which led to her stepfather being prosecuted and eventually convicted.
In support of her application for compensation, Watson's counsel said her stepfather's actions were 'a gross breach of trust and a breach of privacy of a sexual nature' and should be seen as 'sexual assault to which she did not in fact consent'.
The First-Tier Tribunal conceded that although voyeurism wasn't a crime of violence, Watson had 'a well-founded fear of immediate violence from her stepfather at the time she discovered the indecent images of her taken by him'.
But Judge Levenson said the fact that voyeurism was a specified sexual offence under the dangerous offences provision in the Criminal Justice Act did not make it a 'crime of violence' for the purposes of the compensation scheme. Nor was there any implication that there was a clear risk of immediate unlawful violence.
'Voyeurism can take place from a great distance away with the use of relevant equipment and it does not at all follow that it is accompanied by a risk of violence. Indeed, the voyeur might not want the victim to have the remotest knowledge of the voyeurism,' the judge said.
Allowing the authority's review, Levenson said: 'Voyeurism is not in and of itself threatening of immediate violence (although the discovery of it caused the claimant to feel threatened) and here there was no threat made by the stepfather.'
Jean-Yves Gilg is editor in chief at Solicitors Journal