New guidelines suggest updating sentences for sex attackers to take into account advances in technology and new tactics used by offenders.
Judges have been urged by the Sentencing Council to take into account psychological and long-term effects on victims along with new factors, such as filming or photographing an attack, when deciding punishments.
A new report into the Sexual Offences act 2003 has called for a tough new 19-year maximum sentence for “one-off” rapes – a limit that is currently only available to those who target a victim repeatedly or have multiple victims.
The guidelines, covering 54 offences, are under a 14-week public consultation and members of the public are being asked to give their response online at sentencingcouncil.org.uk.
The changes are designed to ensure paedophiles, people-traffickers and rapists operating alone or in gangs will be dealt with more appropriately by courts in England and Wales.
Sentencing Council member Lord Justice Treacy has said the guidelines will help courts to deal with “incredibly complex, sensitive and serious offences”.
“The perspective of victims is central to the council’s considerations. We want to ensure sentences reflect everything the victim has been through and what the offender has done.
“We are looking at the whole context, not just the physical offence but also the tactics employed by offenders like grooming activity, the targeting of vulnerable victims or abuse of a position of trust.
“No one wants more people becoming victims, so protecting the public is a vital part of our proposals, whether this is by jailing offenders or through rigorous treatment to stop them reoffending.”
Judges will be asked to take into account behaviour such as stalking, previous abuse and the targeting of vulnerable victims such as people in care.
The Sentencing Council is responsible for developing new sentencing guidelines and monitoring their use.
Reviewing the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is their largest task to date and as part of the process a survey on the attitudes of victims and the public to the sentencing of sexual offences has been carried out.
The guidelines suggest a broader approach with regard to sexual assault – taking into account that most rapes are carried out by someone the victim knows, and that many occur within families.
The council said the current guidelines for sexual assault take “too narrow an approach”, and focus too much on the nature of the physical activity perpetrated by the offender. Fear and intimidation must also be taken into account, making offences more serious where violence is threatened.
The council has explained that a review of the guidelines was needed as the nature of offending has changed. We now have a greater understanding of how perpetrators use technology in offences involving images of children and in cases of child grooming.
Factors such as the use of alcohol or drugs to facilitate offences and the use of gifts or bribes to coerce a victim should be taken into account, while paedophiles operating in rings or those who abuse a position of trust should be given tougher sentences.
The council said it wanted to make sure the “big players” in trafficking offences get the longest sentences while only those very low down in any operation should avoid jail.
Offences involving children were highlighted as “particularly heinous” and proposed even those with a low level involvement in such an offence should be jailed.