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Sex offence sentencing: what victims and the public think

Posted on 06 December 2012 .
Tags: sentencing council, sex offences, victims

Today the Sentencing Council released new guidance for judges on sentencing sex offences. They're suggesting longer sentences and a greater acknowledgement of aggravating and mitigating factors experienced by the offenders themselves. That means that although sentencing will be harsher, an effort will be made to address the root cause, hopefully, prevent reoffending. We contributed to the Council's review of this issues, speaking to nearly 50 survivors of different types of sex offences and members of the public and so we know that the new guidelines reflect these groups' opinions.

Survivors we spoke to were keen to emphasise the psychological as well as physical harm caused by sexual abuse and violence. Although, it might be self-evident that sexual offences distress victims, our work provides concrete examples and evidence of the extent of this. Survivors we spoke to explained how every facet of their life could be affected by the offence: their mental health, ability to work, to have relationships and to care for their children. And the guidelines respond to this emphasis.

The Sentencing Council has also suggested that actions that facilitate an offence, such as grooming young people are to be taken into account. Again this directly mirrors survivors accounts, discussing how insidious grooming can be, leading young people to blame themselves for their abuse. There are many more moving and relevant insights in the research, which bring the voices of survivors to the fore.

But it's crucial to acknowledge that their accounts were nuanced, too. This was not a knee-jerk reaction of 'lock them up and throw away the key'; where appropriate they favoured treatment alongside custodial sentences for sex offenders.

Survivors know the real impact of sex offences. They want to prevent what's happened to them from happening to other people and and feel that the impact these offences have is being adequately acknowledged. For this, I welcome the new guidelines.

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