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 251.

    You will find that there is no such anonymity for those who are the subject of rape accusations. This individual's names are dragged through the mud BEFORE TRIAL and as a result their lives are effectively over. While the girls are reprimanded for wasting police time, there is no recompense for the men when the accusations prove to be baseless; which in my experience is common.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    @227 (Jesus). Good. And you would be ripped to shreads which considering it would do society a favour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    @203---the guilty offender ? or will any male do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    231. Bastiat "The defendant is the defendant, innocent until PROVEN, right?" rape anonymity has nothing no bearing on the assumption of innocence for defendants.

    also, those rape myths you cited aren't the ones that most affect survivors prosecution cases. those would be that the accuser "was asking for it really" for being promiscuous, drunk, etc. victim-blaming stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    @233 Justin
    I understand this, but I come from a more libertarian perspective. Taking the life of a citizen can never be returned, & the error rate in our, albeit relatively good, justice system is simply too high.

    @235 Black
    I misspoke & apologise. I meant blacks are disproportionately represented in gaols:

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    84.Megan "we don't have control over what 'turns us on'
    I agree and moreover believe this should be borne in mind in sentencing as the implications for society are rather more serious than someone's personal preference for the same sex or a particular 'type' of partner. It may transpire that rapists / paedos can never be released but permanently & securely interred well away from the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    With no reference to rape or sexual abuse.

    How long will it be before all men will be forced to wear handcuffs and blindfolds in the presence of women?

    Same principle as burkas?

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 243.

    Bastiat "The convention of shielding rape accusers is a Victorian relic, rendering women supposed to be virgins until marriage"

    Anonymity for rape victims wasn't granted until the 1970s. It was done because of the lurid reporting of rape trials by the media putting huge numbers of victims off coming forward, as well as the social stigma and abuse from third parties that comes with it.

  • Comment number 242.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    - a sufficient lawyer can make any violent crime against a woman be accepted as a 'sex crime' and so emerge two categories of criminal offence; violent crimes against women by men (carrying a high penalty) and crimes against men by anyone (carrying a lower penalty)

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    230.Old Father Thames
    Humiliate and mutilate them with a public castration. Let other potential paedophiles see what's in store"

    And this is a fair way to deal with mental illness, is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    They could begin by getting rid of the Sex Offenders Register.

    Think about it. What we're saying is that such people are so dangerous that they have to be on a register. If they're that dangerous, why the hell are we releasing them from prison?

    Agree with the comments that the accused should have anonymity until proven guilty too. I can see no good reason why that isn't the case (for any crime).

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    *Wades through the rabid right-wing chin-froth and dicarded pitchforks*


    Looks like The Sentencing Council is doing a good piece of work here, updating the legal framework around sexual offences to account for modern technology, and updating sentencing guidance to account for modern understanding of the impact of such offences on the victim.


  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    230.Old Father Thames
    'Humiliate and mutilate them with a public castration. Let other potential paedophiles see what's in store'

    Just like the pickpockets that would work the crowd at public hangings for pickpockets?

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    We are in danger of creating a society of victims. No one can deny that men are falsely accused of sex crimes. Indeed, I know of two high profile cases in my local area, in one of which the 'victim' - who had just left home for art college - admitted that she was willing to accuse any innocent man for an imaginary rape after a drunken night out. A sober evidence based judicial system is essential.

  • Comment number 235.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    the death penalty should be bought back as a deterrent and as a punishment, nukes are kept as a deterrent but they kill more than the death penalty, why are they not abolished?

    and is our countries judiciary system so incompetent that it cannot deduce truth from falsehood, the criminals from the victims and the guilty from the innocent

    if so, it doesnt deserve any respect from anyone

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    218 Bastiat: The state doesn't have to take the life of a citizen. They could privatise executions like everything else!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    You wont change people by putting them in jail....ever. Certainly not those without the morals and self-control to leave vunerable people alone. Then again, why should the majority decide what is morally correct or not. Law isn't exactly moral either.


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