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Compensating the past

Redress for people who have suffered neglect in a foster home or other institution is a difficult issue. In some 20 western countries, abuse has been investigated and victims have often received official apologies. Researcher Johanna Sköld co-organised an international workshop where researchers compared various compensation models.

The participants included researchers from nine countries, representatives of client organisations and people who have grown up in orphanages or foster homes.

Johanna SköldWhat questions did the discussions focus on?

We discussed in particular how financial compensation has been used in various countries to come to terms with the past and to give victims recognition – as well as what lessons we can learn from these processes. We concluded that there are three types of compensation. Firstly, a collective, where for instance everyone who has been at the same place is compensated. Secondly where an individual’s experiences of abuse determine if and how much compensation is due, and thirdly, funds from which victims can apply for support, including rehab.

Which type seems to work best?

It depends on who you mean it should work best for. At the workshop, several people pointed out that the collective model is less distressing for the sufferers, as they don’t need to retell traumatic memories that are subsequently assessed by someone else. Still, it’s difficult to apply the collective model to abuse in foster care, where many sufferers have been in completely different places and each story is unique.

Have these compensation cases fulfilled their purpose? Have victims received recognition?

Several financial redress schemes have failed, because the focus on the victims has been overshadowed by legal and bureaucratic processes. The workshop participants made clear the importance of client organisations and victims being involved in the design of the compensation processes. When we presented the Swedish compensation process, where 54 per cent of applicants were refused compensation, the international participants were shocked. No other financial redress scheme in the world has had such a high refusal rate.

How common is it in other countries, that sufferers who feel they deserve compensation are refused?

It’s a big problem in other countries as well. In Australia and the UK, where major investigations are underway, the focus is solely on sexual abuse, even though many children from orphanages and foster homes suffered many other forms of abuse. This fact is likely to influence the design of future financial redress schemes in these countries.

Footnote: The workshop “Compensating the Past” gathered some 25 participants and was held 10-11 November at the Museum of Work in Norrköping.

Text: Therese Ekstrand Amaya
Photo: Rebecka Cromdahl

28 Nov 2016

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Last updated: 2017-02-13