Tougher sex offence sentences proposed

 
A child with his head in his hands At the moment, the physical impact of an assault is the main factor in sentencing offenders

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Sentences for rapists and other sex offenders in England and Wales could become tougher to recognise the long-term psychological harm they cause.

The Sentencing Council also suggests judges could give longer sentences to offenders who film their victims.

In a new consultation, the body says judges should closely consider the complex and damaging effect that a crime has on a victim.

The proposed new guidelines cover virtually all sexual offences.

The Sentencing Council is responsible for trying to ensure consistency in criminal sentencing across all courts in England and Wales and it draws up complex guidelines to assist judges.

The council said that its proposed guidelines for sexual offences aim to update the way the courts deal with 54 crimes, to take into account the tactics and technologies used by offenders, as well as the long-term damage done to a victim.

The guidelines cover almost every sexual offence that is recognised in the UK, from voyeurism to rape, and, if adopted, would play a key role in dealing with people convicted of historic allegations of sexual abuse when victims have come forward decades after the event.

In the 14-week consultation, the council said that judges should be able to send offenders to jail for longer where modern technology proves to be an aggravating factor in increasing the victim's suffering - such as filming abuse of a sexual assault and then distributing it to others.

Nick, who was abused by his Scout leader as a child, said he was given a life sentence

Judges are concerned that they have seen a worrying increase in the number of cases where rapists have filmed their attack and the victim.

Previously the focus in sentencing has been largely on the physical act of the crime, such as which part of a body was violated, because the law defines each individual offence in a quite technical way.

The council's new guidelines make clear that this form of sentencing does not take sufficient account the potentially catastrophic long-term effect on the victim.

Increased sentences

Under the new guidelines, judges would also be able to jail those guilty of so-called "one-off" rapes for a maximum of 19 years, a sentence that is currently only for offenders who attack more than once.

Judges can also take into account the behaviour of an offender before the specific offence, such as whether they use drugs and alcohol as part of their targeting.

Lord Justice Treacy Lord Justice Treacy says victims must be central to sentences handed down by judges

Sentencing for sexual offences against children should also look at how the victim has been groomed or whether the assailant was in a position of trust.

Lord Justice Treacy of the council said: "We're improving guidance for courts to help them deal with these incredibly complex, sensitive and serious offences.

"The perspective of victims is central to the council's considerations. We want to ensure sentences reflect everything the victim has been through and what the offender has done.

"We are looking at the whole context, not just the physical offence but also the tactics employed by offenders like grooming activity, the targeting of vulnerable victims or abuse of a position of trust.

"No one wants more people becoming victims, so protecting the public is a vital part of our proposals, whether this is by jailing offenders or through rigorous treatment to stop them reoffending."

Psychological impact is already taken into consideration in assault and burglary guidelines, but Lord Justice Treacy told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "current [sexual offence] guidelines don't concentrate enough on the perspective of victims".

Sense of responsibility

Sexual violence campaigner Jill Saward, who was raped by two burglars who broke into her home in Ealing, London, in 1986, welcomed the proposals.

"For too long, the impact that [sexual violence] has had on victims has been neglected in the whole justice process," she said.

In the aftermath of her attack, she saw a psychotherapist, a psycho-analyst and psychiatrist, but that was not mentioned in court, she said.

At the sentencing of her attackers, Mr Justice Leonard said that her trauma "had not been so great" - a comment he was censured for and apologised for later in his life.

"That reflected how little understanding there was. I'd been suicidal three times, I'd had post-traumatic stress disorder, which wasn't really recognised then," she said.

She added that victims often felt a sense of responsibility to other potential victims, and were relieved when their rapist was locked up for a long time, thereby preventing further attacks.

 

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  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 244.

    This is self-defeating; the more penalties are increased the more reluctant juries are to convict in some cases. The growing inability to see sexual assault as a spectrum of offences,someone commenting here said it should be the same as murder, means perpetrators that have committed an offence are sometimes acquitted because the resulting sentence would be, in the jury's eyes, disproportionate.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 220.

    I've often been disgusted by the lenient sentences sex offenders get - some judges seem to have pretty odd views about rapists and paedophiles. These are people who commit some of the worst crimes imaginable, and victims lives are permanently changed or even destroyed; victims sometimes commit suicide later in life. I can't think of a punishment harsh enough for some of the perpetrators.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 84.

    I hope that the sentencing guidelines will include mandatory psychiatic assessment of the offender. Evidence is growing that we don't have control over what 'turns us on' - although we do have control over how we respond to such urges - and those unfortunate enough to be aroused by deeds deemed inappropriate by society need help to control themselves once released from gaol.

  • rate this
    +35

    Comment number 62.

    Those that are convicted for crimes such as rape should face tougher sentences without a doubt.

    However, until proven guilty the alleged rapist should remain anonymous, just as the victim does. Those that are falsly accused can also suffer long term psychological harm as the act of false allegation ofter ruins their lives.

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 40.

    It's about time the punishment fitted the crime.

    This country is far too soft with dishing out punishment for crimes committed.

    Stricter prison sentences are also needed, once the accused are in prison they should be denied the luxuries such as pool tables , game consoles etc etc

 

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