The arrest of Max Clifford this week as part of the wider operation Yewtree once again brings sexual offences to the forefront of the media. These are however historic offences, which it is alleged were committed in the 1970s and 1980s. The investigation into these offences is split in to three parts to look at allegations made against various celebrities including Jimmy Saville. Operation Yewtree is an old fashioned investigation which involves taking statements from witnesses and interviewing the alleged perpetrators.
Modern trends in sexual offences, however, are much more technology-centric. The Sentencing Council, who’s remit is to keep Sentencing Guidlines up to date, has said in its recent review of sentencing for sexual offences that “the nature of offending has changed”. Indecent images of children are now widely available on the Internet, the grooming of children for such offences often takes place in Internet chat rooms. There are also worrying statistics to suggest that many rapes and sexual assaults are captured on cameras on mobile phones as some sort of trophy. The point is that in the eight years since the Sexual Offences Act 2003 became law, the guidelines have not changed.
The remit for the consultation into sentencing for sexual offences is to look at three key areas, which the sentencing council feels are paramount to any sentencing court: the effect on the victim, public protection and, of course, technology.
The Council feels that the current guidelines are “too narrow” and do not adequately address the needs of victims. The net result is a feeling that much tougher sentencing powers are required. Previously a court would only have the power to hand down a sentence in the higher bracket of 14 years or more, where there had been a repeated or sustained rape of the same or multiple victims. Sentencing Courts will be handed a wider power to sentence in that level where there is a single rape but the effect upon the victim is ongoing.
The current advances in technology, which mean nearly everyone is equipped with some kind of internet-ready device, also present new difficulties for the Courts. There is however a greater understanding of how grooming and child exploitation are rife on the Internet and the Council is keen that the guidelines reflect the whole experience of the victim, not just any physical activity that occurs as part of the offence. The Council will also enable courts to use new aggravating features such as abusing a position of trust in order to take indecent photos and involvement in a paedophile ring.
The effect of the new guidelines will be much tougher sentences for sexual offences, and these will in turn work towards the aim of public protection, meaning that predatory sexual offenders may find themselves imprisoned for the maximum time that the law allows.