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Sentencing Report

11 Mar 2012

Attitudes to sentencing sexual offences

NatCen Social Research

A new report published revealed what the general public and victims of sexual crime think about the current sentencing of sexual offences. Full report on sentencing: NatCen - Attitudes to sentencing sexual offenders

The research was conducted by NatCen Social Research on behalf of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales. A separate report was also written by NatCen reflecting on survivors’ experiences:

NatCen - Survivors' stories: Personal experiences of sexual abuse and violence (PDF 324.8kB)

Survivors pointed out that  sexual offences have a long lasting negative effect, not only themselves, but also on their family and friends who may feel guilt that the offence has occurred or know the offender in some way. The impact of sexual offences can also affect every aspect of a survivors life and go far beyond that of the immediate details and aftermath but include long term impacts on relationships, ability to work, and emotional and mental wellbeing.

Lead researcher Dr Carol McNaughton Nicholls comments: "While the research focuses exclusively on sentencing sexual offences, I was also struck in the process of doing the research and talking to survivors by just how much they feel the ongoing social stigma of sexual violence affects their experience, and means they do not have a ‘voice’ to express the true impact of the offence. It was also clear that sexual offences can have a long lasting and wide ranging effect – on victims directly but also their family, parents and partners. For them all, sentencing was just one (important) part of a process of recovery."

Rape Crisis (England and Wales) supports the findings from Natcen and are appalled that this independent report on public opinion is launched at the same time as the Court's decision to uphold the conviction of a woman for perverting the course of justice after she retracted her accusations of rape against her husband: The Guardian: Woman fails to quash conviction for falsely retracting rape claim

This woman's experiences and the trauma she has been subjected to have not only been trivialised and overlooked but compounded by the distress of being criminalised, imprisoned, separated from her children and forced to pursue a lengthy and unsuccessful quest for justice. Rape Crisis is seriously concerned that the criminal justice system can punish victims in this way. We know that only around 10% of women and girls who are raped or sexually assaulted ever report to the police and cases like this will do nothing to increase that figure or confidence in the criminal justice system.