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

    Comment number 51.

    @36, following @32.
    Yes, Swampy.
    And 18 year old would get 6 years if she was 13, girlfriend or a pick up or a rape.
    19 year old and his girlfriend of 16 years is not underage therefore 0 years for no crime.
    3 years difference at age 15 is rather a lot - or have you forgotten?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    While commensurately stiff sentencing is right and proper in rape crimes I am shocked by the projected sentence of 19 years for so-called `one-off' rape given the real possibility of false allegations leading to convictions, together with the broad umbrella of circumstances now termed `rape' - I'm afraid worryingly perverse, repressive PC thinking grips politicians and judiciary to our cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Judges are like there ex class mates in politics, rich posh boys, who haven't got a clue whats happening in the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Long overdue, the laws on this were archaic. Even if they don't deter sick individuals from acting, at least the punishments handed out won't be derisory

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    37.Pete Powell

    Tougher sentences, yes.
    A clause to state no appeal? Not exactly what the judicial system is about is it!
    'The clause must also state that such offenders cannot be classed as a member of the human race!'
    Regardless of what they crime they commited, they are a member of the human race. I'm afraid a guilty verdict doesn't change their biological classification!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    From the news story:

    "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's completely outrageous. I'm not sure if the "privileged" should be judging on crimes they undermine with such ill-thought-out words.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Usually when considering crime sentencing I'm an advocate of working out how we can provent future similar crime arising, rather than joining the hang 'em high brigade.

    However, the worst sex offences are a particular type of crime that is so indefensible, so soul destroying, so heinous, that the perpetrators should be locked away for decades.

    Rape is as bad as murder in my book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "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.

    Nice words, but unfortunately further impending cuts to UK justice system will ensure little/no progress
    It amazes me, so many continuous new laws/regulations etc & no money to implement/police them, talk is CHEAP

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Whilst such crimes are awful and life-destroying, I think society and the judiciary usually reflect its view in the sentence.

    I'd be more happy to see tougher sentences for the type of criminal behaviour that is exhibited by a large minority of our youth, which in recent times has been almost excused under the awful term of anti-social behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Its the Prosecution rates that need tackling as well, the CPS and the police stood by while grooming took place despite them knowing about it. Rape is not taking seriously enough by the police or the CPS (yet alone social workers who care more about box ticking), Castration should be allowed if we wont jail rapists and abusers for life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    So, 16YO has sex with 15YO and gets 1 year sentence. Two 15YO's and nobody goes to prison? What about a 15YO gang of 4 and one 15YO female? Still nobody in jail?

    Good idea but a bit simplistic I'm afraid.

  • rate this

    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

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Why does the issue of those who falsely accuse come up as soon as rape is mentioned. No other crime has false accusations then? How about rape victims getting their own defence team just like the accused, the CPS represents the Crown. Rapists who lie and say they didn't rape to get tried for perjury their sentence should not run concurrently perjury sentence starts when rape one ends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    ALL crimes that violate others, be they antisocial behaviour, sex attacks, burglaries, dangerous driving, gangs setting upon innocents in the street, mugging, domestic violence need tougher sentencing.

    And we also need hard labour so that prisoners can earn their keep and not be supported by taxpayers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Whatever tougher sentences are proposed, there should be a clause inserted that there can be no recourse, once proven guilty, to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The clause must also state that such offenders cannot be classed as a member of the human race!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @32 So you'd put an 18 year old lad in prison for 3 years for having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend?

    I think you might need to tweak that one a bit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Yes, we do need tougher laws.
    However, what is more of a problem is the lack of conviction when rape and abuse cases are heard.

    Moreover, in light of the Jimmy Saville etc claims, there is a problem with those not feeling willful to come forward in the event of a sex crime.
    These two problems need better attention, focusing on the crime leads to the negligence of those victims that need help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    If harsher longer sentences are imposed then its just us will suffer because more money will need to be put in to keeping all these evil people locked up and comfy. Already a stupid amount of money goes to these people, if life really meant life, and we killed the people who have killed and harmed people, castrated those who rape we would live in a much safer country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Fine in theory but in practice?When they got rid of hanging life was supposed to mean life....fifteen years if your lucky Time off for good behaviour, appeals to european courts costing millions. I'm afraid like a lot of other things its wallpapering over the cracks. When life actually means life and 20 years means 20 years I might believe it but till then drivel and meaningless babble

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    How about:
    For underage sex, if there's a difference of 2 years or more between parties, the older gets (offenders age minus victims age) years in jail.

    Rate up or down as you see fit.


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