Categories:Crime,UK

New Sexual Offences Sentencing Guidelines — ‘previous good character’ can be aggravating factor

By Avnish Ghoorbin

An overhaul of the Sexual Offences Sentencing Guidelines will focus on psychological harm rather than physical harm. The guidelines were published on 12 December 2013 and will come into force on 1 April 2014 and bring the following key changes: previous good character can be considered an aggravating factor where used to facilitate an offence; removal of ‘ostensible consent’ — the idea that a child over 13 can agree to sex; new aggravating feature of recording the crime, to take into account advances in technology; new offences concerning an abuse of a position of trust over children; and increased sentences for some offences, such as rape.

In the wake of the Saville inquiry and instances of the large-scale grooming of children, it comes as no surprise that the Sexual Offences Sentencing Guidelines have been amended. The focus has shifted from the physical harm caused by offenders to the psychological and long-term impact on victims.

The Saville inquiry in particular demonstrated the potential for someone with influence over their victims to abuse that trust. While an abuse of trust has always been considered an aggravating factor in sentencing for sexual offences, an offender’s ‘good character’ has previously been a point of mitigation of the offence. The new guidelines, however, consider that there may be circumstances where an offender uses their ‘previous good character’ to facilitate their offending. While this concept may have originated by consideration of large-scale abuse by celebrities and instances of grooming by gangs, it is also relevant to any scenario where there is an abuse of a position of trust…

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