Those who have suffered sexual abuse are entitled to expect that the perpetrator will be punished by the criminal courts – but they may also be due compensation. In one case, a junior member of a religious organisation who was raped by one of its elders was awarded substantial damages.
The woman had been on a door-to-door evangelising mission with the elder before she was invited to his home, where he raped her. Following a police investigation decades after the event, the elder was convicted of the rape and seven counts of indecently assaulting a young girl. He received a 14-year prison sentence.
The woman later launched proceedings against the trustees of the congregation of which she and the elder were members, and against the organisation's worldwide governing body. Whilst accepting that the elder had raped her, they argued that it would not be fair, just or reasonable to find them vicariously liable for his criminal act.
In rejecting that argument, the High Court noted that the elder was a spiritual leader of the congregation and was held out as a moral exemplar. Under the organisation's rules, he enjoyed considerable power and authority over more junior members. The rape took place in circumstances closely connected to the carrying out of the elder's religious duties.
The woman had been impliedly instructed by a senior member of the congregation to befriend the elder and act as his confidante. His authority as an elder rendered it less likely that the woman would question his motives and emboldened him to think that he could act as he wished without fear of the consequences. The defendants had created the conditions in which the two might be alone together, thus creating or significantly enhancing the risk of sexual abuse.
The woman has suffered persistent bouts of depression in the many years since the attack, together with symptoms indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder. The defendants were ordered to pay her £62,000 in damages to reflect the pain, suffering and loss of amenity she had endured.