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Attitudes to sentencing sexual offenders

Scales of justice
Published: March 2012

Aim

To inform their review of current sentencing practice, the Sentencing Council of England and Wales commissioned us to conduct research on attitudes to sentencing sex offences with victims/survivors, and the public.

Findings

People who had experienced sexual offences

  • A sexual offence directly impacts upon a wide circle of people, as well as the survivor of the offence, such as their parents or family.
  • Survivors felt sexual offences such as rape could warrant life sentences for offenders, since they frequently described the impact of their experiences as a ‘life sentence’.
  • Following an offence, dealing with physical injury, psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorder could harm the capacity to work and/or form relationships in the future.
  • It was felt the inherently harmful nature of sexual offences should always be taken into account when sentencing.

The general public

  • People widely support custodial sentences for sexual offences, which they felt would protect the public, punish the offender and acknowledge the seriousness of the offence.
  • There was wide variation in the actual suggested sentences across the focus group sample and participants found it difficult to reach consensus.

Method

The research involved a rapid evidence assessment, 12 focus groups with the general public across England and Wales, and interviews with 46 people who had experienced a sexual offence or their parents/carers.

Read the report

Read survivors' stories