Tougher sentencing guidance in child sex abuse cases published
Child sex offenders caught in ‘police stings’ face tougher punishments by considering the “intended harm” to a victim under new sentencing guidelines published today (May 17).
Revised guidance from the Sentencing Council for courts in England and Wales, which will come into effect on May 31, will “consider the intended sexual harm to a child even in cases where no actual child exists or no sexual activity takes place”, for example in police operations.
Current sexual offences guidelines, published in 2013, had been interpreted in some cases to mean that harm should be considered “low” in these types of cases or had placed the absence of actual harm to a child as a mitigating factor in cases where sexual activity was incited but did not actually occur.
The revisions cover arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence (s14 Sexual Offences Act 2003) even where no sexual activity takes place or no child victim exists. The Sentencing Council said the maximum sentence depends on the activity being arranged but is life imprisonment if the rape of a child under 12 years old is being planned.
The new guidance also covers “causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity” (s10 Sexual Offences Act 2003) and other similar offences, even where activity is incited but does not take place or no child victim exists. The maximum sentence is 14 years’ imprisonment
The revised guidance is intended to clarify how magistrates and judges should sentence offenders and follows requests from the Court of Appeal arising from two cases (‘Privett and Others’ and ‘Reed and Others’) that provided the courts with guidance on how to approach the assessment of harm in cases where there is no actual child victim.
The case of ‘Privett’ involved arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence where there was no child, and ‘Reed’ involved sexual activity that was incited but ultimately did not take place.
Sentencing Council member, Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said: “The sentencing guidelines published today bring greater clarity to the courts on how to deal with cases of arranging or facilitating child sexual offences, even in cases where no actual child exists, or no sexual activity took place.
“Judges and magistrates will impose sentences that reflect the intended harm to the child, even where that activity does not ultimately take place, to protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm.”
The Council has also published a new guideline for the offence of sexual communication with a child (s15A of the Sexual Offences Act), which will come into effect on July 1.
Offenders face a maximum penalty of two years in prison for sharing images, causing psychological harm, abuse of trust or the use of threats or bribes.
In other revisions, the Council has clarified that offences committed against victims overseas should be treated as seriously as similar offending against victims in England and Wales.
“Sentencers should approach the assessment of seriousness in the same way regardless of whether activity was caused or incited in person or remotely and whether harm was caused to a victim anywhere else in the world,” it added.