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 371.

    I think in some cases the penalty should be worst but i also think fake claims should be named and shamed along with a equal sentence. False claims wreak a mans life and i think women should pay the same as he would.

    Same goes for the Yewtree case, any false claims need to be prosecuted and punished the same way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    @357colinwe; I think the vast majority of people in this country would like to see serious sex offenders hung or castrated,by doing this we might be able to stop innocent kids being murdered or abused but unfortunately their is a minority bunch of weirdo's that make the rules who think the best way to deal with these creatures is to give them a nice warm cell and a playstation

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    365. Schwarz
    Since the majority of rape trials already come down to he said/she said & always in the defendant's favour, the courts would be as well to review this principle of "justice" as well as sentencing.
    So basically you want a womans word to carry more than a man's?

    Any woman wanting revenge can now get the target of her vengence jailed for life with one word. Some justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    I would like to see those accused of rape remain anonymous until they are convicted but I would also like there to be access to a register of convicted violent sex offenders, serial sex offenders and serial domestic abusers. I want to know if any potential partner was one of those.
    If the justice system believes in rehab for violent / serial offenders, well they can date them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    "I can't see how the impact on the victim can be taken into account"

    It wouldn't be the only situation where sentence reflects harm and not just culpability, e.g. dangerous driving with/without causing death, or assault not intending death but maybe causing it.

    If you do something liable to cause unpredictably severe harm, the risk you take is unpredictable punishment. Seems fair enough.

  • Comment number 366.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Since the majority of rape trials already come down to he said/she said & always in the defendant's favour, the courts would be as well to review this principle of "justice" as well as sentencing. I'd love to know how many hundreds of acquitted rapists are out there re-offending compared to the pitifully small number of false rape allegations reported each year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Judges should be held to more account of the sentances they hand out. The police apprehend criminals and prisons lock them up. The link in the middle is broken.

  • Comment number 363.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    347. Bastiat how about you actually prove with objective, reliable studies that rape anonymity harms rape justice? instead of making simplistic arguments.

    "Why don't you apply your unjust rules to murder accusers?"

    the legal system already considers the needs of witnesses for protection and lets them apply for it. if it's good enough in murder cases, it's good enough for rape accusers

  • Comment number 361.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    @350. plath
    "the court is open to press scrutiny. the details of the accuser are known and can be questioned publically. they just can't be named in the media"
    You contradict yourself here. Why don't you apply your unjust rules to murder accusers, to assault or battery accusers, to kidnapping accusers?

    Are these accusers' lives worth different to you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    336. Name Number 6
    332. realisticlogic
    Modern technology. We now have such a thing called DNA which according to the courts is conclusive evidence of a persons guilt.

    DNA may be infallible but the people handling it are not. It is very easy to ''plant'' DNA.


    To add to your point..

    Even when its valid, DNA can only show us so much

    e.g. Its useless in a case where the issue is consent...

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    20 yrs ago my parents reported to police the abuse I suffered at the hands of a relative. Police did nothing. Now, only 7% of reported sexual offences result in conviction. I went back to police in spring 2012. They're investigating. Something *must* be done. I've already paid a life sentence. No punishment could ever fit the crime, but to see that this is finally being taken seriously is great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    342. scirop

    Ha ha. Your funny. Bring back hanging? You call that a 'serious' debate? Oh, I forgot about the 'lets castrate them', eye for an eye, life should mean life.
    This is a BBC HYS forum, no one takes it seriously, at least not the ones who have the power. So until the day comes when you and the right whingers get your little dictatorship, I'll say and write whatever I please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Being an ex-magistrate, I fully admit that the laws of this country need an overhaul. Anyone who commits offences of any sexual nature should be dealt with a rod of iron. But I have myself witnessed a man convicted of a historic sex offence, which I know he was never in a position to have done. The female judge and the removal of safeguards allowed a miscarriage to take place. Appeal is pending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Watching my comment 330 get the thumbs down I'm shocked and amazed that some of you seem to think that the notion that Women can and do rape is an opinion.
    It happened by stealth and was an attempt on my life.
    Sorry to disillusion you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    @flipmode quite agree with tougher penalties, however prisoners are not just allowed to play pool and have TVs & x boxes. This has to be 'earned' by good behaviour and Working within the prison, complete programs appropriate to their needs. Most prisoners have about 1 hour a day recreational- if they have earned it I'd have ball and chain!! ! But the system needs to address root causes .

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    329. beammeup "I would like to see the end of tv programs that cater to sexual crimes" Yes and the endless slurry of appallingly violent 'realism' and ludicrous 'detectives'. This, to form part of society's rehabilitation. Piling on the prison addresses the effect not the cause. Forever stressing the negative and dwelling on the horrific neither reflects society nor improves it.

  • Comment number 352.

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


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