LONDON—The parents of a British girl sexually assaulted at the age of 6 by boys in her school playground have won compensation from the local authority.
Despite agreeing to pay out the undisclosed five-figure settlement, the council has not acknowledged any culpability for the sexual assault.
The landmark case sets a legal precedent, the BBC reported, as this is the first time Britain’s High Court has approved a settlement in an instance of sexual assault involving elementary school students.
The child’s mother told the BBC that since the assaults, her daughter has had nightmares, been afraid to leave her home, and has suffered from anxiety attacks.
“We had a broken little girl who had been seriously sexually assaulted repeatedly over a number of weeks in school, feeling unsafe in school and she had nothing,” the mother said.
The girl, identified only by the pseudonym Bella to protect her identity, told her mother about the repeated sexual assaults only when the physical discomfort became unbearable.
Her mother said that in the following days and months, while support had been provided to the alleged perpetrators, her daughter was left with no help. The victim’s parents were forced to pay for her counseling out of pocket. She added that the experience had left their family “devastated,” the Telegraph reported, while her daughter was “badly let down by those supposed to safeguard her while she was at school.”
Bella’s parents argued in a lawsuit that the school had failed to prevent the assaults, and did not properly train staff members to recognize a number of warning signs.
Incidents were allegedly not flagged internally at the school, despite allegations that a member of staff had seen Bella with her underwear partly removed, while one of the boys stood behind her, and despite the school reportedly being aware that the boys had a history of similar behavior.
A lawyer told the Telegraph that the child was also forced to confront one of her tormentors in a meeting organized by staff on the day the allegations came to light, without the knowledge or consent of her parents.
Bella’s mother said the compensation funds will be used for further counseling for the child, if needed, and that pursuing legal action was about serving justice.
“It matters for her I think when she’s older. She can make some sense of how she could be so seriously sexually assaulted so many times in a place where she should have been safe,” she said.
Despite agreeing to disburse the compensation sum, the local authority has not admitted liability.
“When she finds out that not only were the boys not prosecuted, not punished, but also the people who were responsible for keeping her safe didn’t even write an apology to say ‘yes, we know we got it wrong and we’re sorry.'”
The mother added, “Although the litigation has not been easy, we hope that when she is older it will help her understand that there was some accountability for what happened to her; that it should never have happened, and that she was badly let down by those who were supposed to safeguard her while she was at school.”
Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, told the Telegraph, “This case shows that schools, local authorities, and the Department for Education are failing to do enough to protect very young girls in their care.
“Despite repeated warnings, and shocking figures revealing the extent of sexual violence in our schools, there is still a reluctance by school authorities to properly address the issue.”
British law states that in instances where an assault is carried out by a child younger than 10 years old, the perpetrators cannot be held criminally responsible. Inconsistent recording of incidents is also a known problem.
Police officials reportedly told BBC News they had recorded a total of 593 allegations of sex offences on school grounds in 2017 involving children. This includes 71 allegations of rape and 203 offences where the victim was younger than 13.