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 91.

    All serous crimes such as rape, murder, attempted murder, manslaughter should be tougher & when a custodial sentence is given it should be spent in a place more like a prison instead of a a leisure centre. Also, having life sentences & whole life sentences is farcical. There should be one sentence called ‘life’ & it should mean just that - the offender spends the rest of their life in prison

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    82. Joyanblu

    If they need something to calm them down they obviously are NOT fit to be released early, killers or rapists. Bribing prisoner? Not what prison is for

    Its more about giving hope. Take away hope & a killer may as well kill again; another inmate, a guard, anyone. What else can happen to them? 2 life sentences? And don't say the death penalty that none sense has long been put to rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    78 - where is your evidence that most of UK "wants it for serious crime"? We hear this a lot but there are no studies that have ever shown it to be a deterrent. You purely seek vengeance? Would you pull the lever? Really? When it came to ending the life of another person? What about when mistakes are made?

    How about time sentenced is time served?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Every time HYS chooses the subject of crime and punishment, the usual posts about soft touch jails etc appear. When will people realize that regimes in Prison HAVE TO conform to European regulations and directives, if they don't compensation claims abound. Legal Aid must be stopped for convicted criminals of all ilks and spurious claims thrown out. I am all for Europe apart from this nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Reading the comments tells us there is a real concern amongst men of being found guilty of behaviour which falls under the banner 'sex offence' which is no more than the naughty boisterous activity of a male. This does not seem to be balanced by a similar concern from the female fraternity, who like men engage in antics too. Sentencing should not be so prescriptive as to diminish real criminality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    It should also apply to people who are raped and refuse to report the incident to protect others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Re 83
    Why is only physical violence taken into account in sexual crime? Emotional violence is just as powerful and just as coercive. Emotional blackmail, leading someone on, provocative "flirting" etc are all supremely controlling.
    BTW you made the assumption about gender, not me

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 83.

    @68. Philip Iszatt
    "We need an additional crime: sexual entrapment. This would cover behaviour designed to emotionally coerce a person into having sex."

    I have no idea what crime you are proposing. Criminalising women who wear short skirts? Ensuring that 15 year old Lolita wannabes get as stiff a sentence as the fools who fall for them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @58 Colinwe ... I think you're wrong. ' .Tell a killer he can never get out & he has nothing to lose..... the carrot of parole for good behaviour is one used to calm lifers. Whether rapists are ever safe to release is a different argument.'

    If they need something to calm them down they obviously are NOT fit to be released early, killers or rapists. Bribing prissoner? Not what prison is for

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    re my 56,pls dont think i am excusing rape,i'm not.for the genuine victims it has to be physically & mentally destructive & for cases proven beyond doubt the perpetrator deserves nothing other than jail/ is also equally damaging for an accuser if proven innocent,very difficult & emotive subject,hys doesn't give enough space to get all points across.i hadn't mean't to offend earlier

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    @71. Wandalust1956

    I agree but when there are around 300 people coming forward to police it's a perfect example of not needed the backward court system that this country has and acting on a bit of common sense.

    A similar situation to Abou Hamad being released on bail - it makes no sense what so ever - but they still did it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    There is plenty of evidence to show that paedophilia isn't 'hard-wired' into individuals but results from a failure to form meaningful relationships with other adults. This is then, an entirely preventable condition. We teach children about sex: if we taught them about relationships too, we could completely eradicate this problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The problem with sentencing for serious crime in this country is that there are not enough 'suspended sentences'. We are too weak.

    Yes bring it back. Most of the UK population wants it for serious crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

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

    Whilst I agree with it as a concept I have concerns we would end up with a US style system - privatised prisons that use cheap labour as a way to maximise profits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Good to see "Judges can also take into account the behaviour of an offender...", in addition to; "the perspective of victims being central, reflecting everything the victim has been through and what the offender has done."

    Not much mention on rehabilitation though to ensure these offenders become law abiding members of our community once they return into the fold.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    You cannot change your sexuality, if your sexuality means you are into kids or raping adults then you can never truly be safe in public.

  • Comment number 74.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    @ 4. "Make the sentences as tough as for murder"

    That is a seriously bad idea. If you make the sentences the same, a calculating rapist will take the course of action which leaves the least witnesses. Unless you *really, really* think rape is as bad as murder, your plan is terrible. It will increase the murder rate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @60 & 63

    The false accusation stuff really is a red-herring. I think we can all agree being falsely accused of rape is a terrible thing, but seemingly using it as a barrier to properly persue violent sex criminals seems barmy.

    The really sad thing is so many people won't report a rape. That's something that needs to be improved. If anonymity for both victim and accused helps then I'm all for it.


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