UK & World News
Sex Offences: Tougher Sentences To Be Imposed
Judges will be urged to consider the psychological and long-term damage to victims of sex offences when passing sentence on perpetrators under new sentencing guidelines.
The new proposals, which will go out to public consultation, will also ensure the judiciary takes into account other aggravating factors, such as filming or photographing sex attacks.
They would see sentences brought up to date with advances in the technology and tactics used by offenders.
A tougher maximum sentence of 19 years should be given for "one-off" rapes, a limit currently only available for those who attack the same victim over a course of time or rape multiple victims, the guidelines state.
Mother-of-two Gabrielle Browne was attacked by a serial sex offender in 2003, when she was out running in preparation for the London Marathon.
In the years since she has devoted much of her energies to fighting for victims' rights within the judicial system.
Particularly when it comes to sentencing, she believes victims' voices are often lost in the process.
She told Sky News that in her case, her attacker could have been stopped before he targeted her, had a judge handed down a custodial sentence for crimes he committed against other women.
"One of the most shocking and disappointing revelations in the lead up to court was when I found out that only six months earlier he had attacked six women in the same park," she said.
"Some of those women were out with their children. For those six offences he received a community supervision order."
The changes are designed to make sure paedophiles, people-traffickers and rapists who operate alone or in gangs are dealt with better in courts in England and Wales.
Sentencing Council member Lord Justice Treacy 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."
Judges are asked to take into account factors such as stalking and previous abuse by offenders, and the targeting of vulnerable victims like those in care.
The council said the review of the guidelines had come about because the nature of offending has changed and in some cases of sexual exploitation and child grooming perpetrators use technology in offences involving indecent images of children.
"The guidelines reflect these developments so they cover the ways these crimes are committed today," the council said.
For rape, the new guidelines are designed take a broader approach covering a range of scenarios, and to recognise not just the stereotypical "stranger rapes" but to take into account that most rapes are carried out by someone the victim knows, and that many occur within families.
The council said the current guidelines for sexual assault take "too narrow an approach", and focus too much on the nature of the physical activity done by the offender.
It called for fear and intimidation to be taken into account, so an offence would be more serious if violence was threatened or threatening or violent sexual language was used.
For child sex offences the council said it wanted to increase the focus on the behaviour of offenders, how children may have been groomed or exploited, and whether offenders abused a position of trust.
It also said factors such as the use of alcohol or drugs to facilitate the offence and the use of gifts or bribes to coerce a victim should be taken into account.
The guidelines say paedophiles operating in rings or those who abuse a position of trust to create images or videos should be given tougher sentences and called for changes in the way images are classified to aid investigators.
Although Gabrielle Browne welcomes the proposed changes, she believes judges will not be fully armed with all the information necessary to pass sentence until victim impact statements become an everyday part of sentencing.
She said: "When that becomes a routine part of the court process and a routine part of the judge's papers that he considers before passing sentence there is a much greater likelihood that there will be more uniformity in sentencing and taking a victim's views into account."