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 71.

    Quite a few of the comment relate to Jimmy Saville...and quite a few others refer to "innocent till proven guilty". Jimmy Saville has not been found guilty in a court of law...but in the "court of media".

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    And will making false rape accusations attract greater sentences and get you on the sex offenders register?

    Of course not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Notice what is said here, "could" be tougher, not, will be tougher.
    The powers that be, have failed to punish sex offenders properly, for as long as I can remember. This is more than likely, to protect the rich and powerful sex offenders, that move in the circles of the high and mighty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    We need an additional crime: sexual entrapment. This would cover behaviour designed to emotionally coerce a person into having sex. Entrapment is illegal in other areas of life and should be extended to sexual behaviour since physical violence is only one form of coercion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Agreed, but this should also be coupled with a review of what constitutes a 'sex offence'. I for one find it ridiculous that public urination, as odious as it is, should result in being put on the sex offenders' register. Ditto for consensual sex between 15 year olds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    @57 bluebook 'Sentences are not a deterrent, they never have been and they never will be.'

    Sentences ARE a deterrent to the vast majority because we're reasonable people and don't want to end up in prison (not saying we don't think of doing illegal things occassionally but we don't actually do them) so we work within the law. People guilty of these crimes aren't in any way reasonable

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    When is the government going to INSIST on anonymity for those accused of rape, until prosecution?

    This legislation is desperately needed to protect people like Dominic:

    Currently, the law allows rape accusations to be used as a very real weapon by any unscrupulous woman who decides to do so. This is detrimental to both the falsely-accused and genuine victims of rape.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Surprises me, it too so long to consider!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    @ Red Robin - The news story relates to trauma experienced as the result of a sexual crime. I do agree that false accusations are damaging and they are treated seriously, with custodial sentences. Why bring that up though when the news story relates to the actual crime, not being falsely accused of it? I stand by the comment you had removed, it was facetious.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 61.

    Some parts of the U.S. have operated a "choice" sentencing system. You can have 20 years in jail or 5 years in jail if you volunteer for a "chemical castration" treatment, a course of drugs to permanently remove sex drive before parole is allowed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.


    "So do false accusations" - I agree but there is a huge 'fear' around people having the power to accuse rape. When this silences victims, or damages their recovery or inhibits their access to justice, it is adding to the problem and takes focus off those who commit rape.

    And let's take gender out of the equation. Men, women and children are assaulted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    We are still in the dark ages when it comes to tackling all sex offences and we will be for a very long time to come.

    Things move far too slowly and too many people have to suffer (and sometimes pay the ultimate price) before any action is taken.

    The government, the CPS, the judiciary, and the police are all to blame. They would rather cover their own backs than protect innocent victims!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    10. Helen
    Life should mean life

    There needs be a possibility that prisoners can at some point have the chance for freedom. Not for their sake, but for those guarding them. Tell a killer he can never get out & he has nothing to lose. My brother works in the service, the carrot of parole for good behaviour is one used to calm lifers. Whether rapists are ever safe to release is a different argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Sentences are not a deterrent, they never have been and they never will be. If they were, after thousands of years of crime and punishment we would be free of crime surely. Prison should be there to separate those who present a danger to society from those that do not; period. We simply cannot afford the longer sentences that "Joe Public" seems to be calling for. There is a better way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    crimes against children need the harshest sentence available, the perpetrators of the this type of abuse are the lowest form of rape it is not always cut and dried,there have been instances where the "victim" has a vendetta against the "assailant" & fabricated the event,rape is a vile demeaning crime & should be punished,but care needs to be taken,difficult to get right without all facts

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Fix a minimum sentance for violent crime, the rest should depend on the valuation of the prisoner. You can spend 20 yrs in prison & come out to be as murderous as anything, and the law is supposed to say, hey, he's done his time?
    We need a justice system that protects victims & "recycle" criminals. So rest of us feel safe & employers feel they can be trusted when they rejoin the society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    There should be no means of prison sentence reduction for peadophiles.

    A child's life can be totally destroyed by the actions of a peadophile and the sentencing needs to reflect this.

    They should be given the basics of life such as a blanket and a warm room No games consoles, no treats and luxuries, nothing that can give them any form of pleasure.

    Awful sentences for awful crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Same old same old view of prison simply as punishment.

    It's time to start looking at this a different way..... custodial sentences (especially for violent crimes, which obviously includes rape and abuse) should be seen as a a way of protecting the public from further offences - as long as the perpetrator is likely to commit further offences, keep them where they can't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @31. Klara
    "The CPS manual on working with rape puts false rape claims at 2%, which is LESS than most other crimes."

    And how exactly does the CPS manual manage to get a figure for false rape claims? What they mean is, 2% of rape claims are PROVEN to be false.

    "Sexual assault destroys lives absolutely. "

    So do false accusations. The assumption that a man is guilty of rape is an awful thing.


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