(Title Image: The Telegraph)
There are a number of criminal offences relating to sex, some of which are considered the most beastly and serious crimes imaginable.
Sex & The Law
The law on sexual crimes in EnglandandWales is set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It’s the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) role to interpret the law and decide whether there’s enough of a case to go to court. Some of the more serious defined crimes include:
Non-consensual/Forced Sexual Acts
- Rape – When a man penetrates the mouth, anus or vagina of another person (regardless of age) with his penis without consent. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
- Assault by penetration – Penetration of the anus or vagina (not the mouth, strangely) of another person with a body part (except a penis) or object without their consent. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment and it can be committed by either gender.
- Sexual assault – “Sexual touching” another person without their consent that falls short of penetration; including kissing, groping and touching through clothing. The punishment depends on the seriousness – “teabagging” someone is more serious than pinching their backside – but the maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment and it can be committed by either gender.
- Causing sexual activity without consent – Where a victim is forced to carry out a sexual activity without their consent. This might include forced masturbation or being forced to have sex with someone else who may or may not be willing (including the perpetrator). It can be committed by either gender. If penetration is involved, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, otherwise it’s 10 years imprisonment.
Sex Offences against Children
- Sexual offences against children – Largely the same as above, but specifically relating to under-16s. The maximum penalty for penetration is the same as adults (life imprisonment), but for other offences it’s a maximum 14 year sentence as opposed to 10 years for crimes against adults. Consent is irrelevant if the victim is under 13 at the time (statutory rape). It’s also an offence to have sex in the presence of children or force children to watch sexual acts.
- Sexual grooming – It’s an offence to arrange for a child to be sexually abused or to meet with a child after communicating with them with the intention of committing sexual abuse. It can only be committed by adults, with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. Cases involving “internet vigilantes/paedo-hunters” are to be treated on a case by case basis but in some circumstances may be considered entrapment. Sending sexual communications to children (with or without the intention of committing abuse) was made a specific offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015, but the provisions are yet to come into force.
- Child pornography – This includes making, possessing or distributing indecent images of children and is governed under a separate law (Protection of Children Act 1978). The definition of “children” is anyone under the age of 18. Depending on the severity of the images and the offence itself, the punishments range from a community order for the least serious offences right through to 9 years imprisonment. Non-photographic images – including hentai, CGI and other drawings – are counted as “prohibited images” and are dealt with separately, with punishments ranging from a fine to 3 years imprisonment.
Abuse of Authority
- Abuse of a position of trust – Consensual sexual activity/sexual relationships where the older party is in a position of authority or looks after under-18s. The maximum penalty is 5 years imprisonment. There are also specific offences relating to abuse of people who are mentally-ill or being cared for – these carry sentences similar to those of crimes against children.
- Stalking – There’s no single legal definition of stalking – former Plaid Cymru MP, Elfyn Llwyd did a lot of work on this and there are relevant parts in the Protections of Freedom Act 2012. I suppose the closest thing to a definition is a pattern of unwanted contact that results in the victim feeling threatened or trapped. Restraining orders can be used against offenders, but the most serious offences can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
- Domestic abuse/violence – The National Assembly passed the Domestic Abuse & Sexual Violence Act in 2015. The criminal law element is non-devolved, but domestic abuse is recorded as a separate offence. The Act created a National Adviser for domestic abuse and aims to improve support available to victims and raise awareness of the problem in professional environments like the NHS and education system. (See also : Committees Bite Size #2)
- Incest– Consensual sex with an adult relative (including adoptive parents, biological parents, siblings, blood aunts/uncles). First cousins aren’t included. The maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment, but prosecutions are unlikely if the relationship is deemed to have happened without coercion. Cases that involve children being born as a result are also weighed up based on the possible implications for the child.
Dealing with Sex Offenders
- Child defendants – Where the perpetrator of a sexual crime is a child, there are other factors to consider such as whether any sexual activity was consensual, emotional maturity, whether the victim understands if they’ve been exploited or not, the relationship between the parties etc.
- The Sex Offenders Register – Anyone convicted of an offence under the Sex Offences Act has to list certain details with the police and re-confirm the details at a local police station once a year. How long this lasts depends on the seriousness of the offence, but it can range from 2 years to a lifetime. They also have to declare in advance if they intent to travel abroad or if there are any changes to the required details.
- “Sarah’s Law”– In 2010, the UK Home Office introduced the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme which allows parents to make an inquiry about individuals and whether they have a record for child sex offences.
- “April’s Law” – The parents of murdered April Jones are campaigning for people who commit sexual offences against children to register for life.
- “Clare’s Law” – There’s a similar disclosure scheme to Sarah’s Law to find out if a partner has a history of domestic abuse .
Sex Crimes in Wales
In the year to September 2016 there were 5,686 recorded sexual offences in the four Welsh police force areas (xls Table P1). This works out at 1.8 offences per 1,000 people, which is slightly below the EnglandandWales average of 1.9 (xls Table P3).
The bad news is that, year-on-year, the number of recorded sexual offences has risen by 19% in Wales (compared to 12% across EnglandandWales), while the rate has risen faster (+38%), and the average number of offences per 1,000 people (2.4 per 1,000) is significantly greater, in the North Wales force area compared to the rest of Wales. This could be due to housing associations and slumlords importing/exporting damaged individuals from major northern English cities to die by the sea.
Between April 2007 and March 2015, the number of recorded incidents of domestic abuse in the four Welsh police forces rose from 12,696 to 52,631 (xls Table 4.08)
Sexual offences and domestic violence incidents in Wales are now more common than bike thefts (2,913 recorded offences), robberies (720) and thefts from a person (1,748) combined.
There are no recent Wales-only statistics for the following, so I’ll have to use EnglandandWales (xls – Tables 4.01-4.38)
- 27.1% of women and 13.2% of men are said to have been a victim of domestic abuse since the age of 16. Rates of domestic abuse for both sexes have consistently fallen since 2004 and fallen sharper amongst women (-2.9%; men -2.5%). Domestic abuse is also less common amongst married and cohabiting couples than singles (for women it’s a rate of 3.6% [relationship] vs 12.5% [single])
- Men are more likely to be domestically abused through the use of force (37% of victims) than women (29%). Women are more likely to be threatened (45%), non-physically/emotionally abused (63%) or sexually assaulted (7%).
- Men suffer more serious injuries as a result of domestic abuse – in the year ending March 2015, 8% of men had severe bruising or internal injuries compared to 5% of women. However, just 27% of men sought medical treatment compared to 73% of women, while women (47% of victims) are significantly more likely to suffer mental health problems as a result (30% men).
- About 7 women and 2 men are killed by their partners every month (2012-13).
- In 62% of abuse incidents, the abuser was sober and only 19% of victims lived with their partner.
- Women are far more likely to tell others about domestic abuse (88% of victims) than men (61%); women are also significantly more likely to tell the police (26%) or a health professional (23%) than men (10% and 11% respectively).
- In the year to March 2015, 32% of domestic abusers were arrested and 20% were charged. 31% of cases where the abuser was charged went to court, though the most popular reason for a trial failing was the CPS or the police deciding not to take action. 68% of victims were satisfied in how the cases were handled.
- Women and men are equally likely to consider hitting a partner “unacceptable behaviour”regardless of the rationalisation for it (i.e an affair, nagging).
Rape, Sexual Assault & Stalking
- 19% of women and 3.8% of men are said to have been victims of a sexual assault since the age of 16. Again, there are significant falls over a 10-year period.
- 4.8% of women and 0.3% of men have either been victims of a rape attempt or been raped since the age of 16; when attempts are excluded the figures fall to 4.1% and 0.2% respectively. The figures for serious sexual assaults are 4.7% and 0.3%.
- While the rape rate for women has fallen over 10 years, it seems to fluctuate from year to year instead of being a steady decline.
- 18.1% of women and 3.7% of men are said to have been victims of “less serious sexual assaults” since the age of 16.
- 20.2% of women and 9.8% of men are said to have been victims of a stalking since the age of 16. Female students aged 16-19 seem to be the most common target, but more men aged 55-59 are stalked than women of the same age.
- Women are far more likely to be sexually assaulted or stalked by a partner or ex-partner than men. 54% of female victims have been seriously sexually assaulted (including rape) by a partner or ex-partner compared to 33% of men. Abuse by family members is more evenly split.
- Sex crime becomes less prevalent the older you get; it’s more common amongst the 16-24 age group in both sexes, but a particular spike amongst 16-19 year old women.
Sexual Abuse of Children
The following is from a 2016 report commissioned on behalf of NSPCC (pdf p26-30):
- There were 2,461 recorded sexual offences against children (defined as under-16s) in Wales in 2014-15.
- Between 2004-05 and 2014-15 the number of recorded incidents per 1,000 people has risen from 1.4 to 3.3. This is the second lowest rate of the Home Nations; the highest is in Northern Ireland (4.0).
- There were 754 incidents of sexual activity involving under 16s, 234 of these were under-13s.
- There were more recorded incidents of rape (404) against girls than boys (152).
- There were only 5 recorded incidents of “sexual grooming”, 5 abuses of position and 12 cases of child sexual exploitation.
- 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they know.
There are some things we already knew that are confirmed by the figures: women are far more likely to be a victim of a sexually-motivated crime and more likely to be killed by a partner; it disproportionately affects the young; such crimes are being reported in greater numbers and are more prevalent than we’d like to admit.
However, there are also things that go against conventional wisdom: a sizable proportion of recorded domestic abuse victims are men (even if the overall majority are women) and they’re more likely to be physically assaulted; you’re seemingly more likely to be a victim of domestic abuse or sexual crimes if you’re single or just come out of a relationship; although the majority of sexual crimes are carried out by strangers, women seem more at risk from people they know than people they don’t. It’s also worth dispelling the myth of the “predatory paedophile”. While it’s almost certain most of that activity is underground and unlikely to be recorded or monitored except by the likes of CEOP, children are far more likely to be abused by someone they know (probably parents, step-parents, foster parents or siblings), and incidents of grooming and abuse by people in positions of authority seem to be rare. Or, more disturbingly – and as we’ve seen over the past few years – it’s significantly under-reported.
Catching Criminals & Supporting Victims
It’s the job of the police to collect evidence of sexual crimes and domestic violence. Some forces have specialist units dedicated to investigating rape and sexual assault, while CEOP investigates child sexual abuse that’s occurring on the internet.In cases of rape, victims will have to undergo a forensic medical examination by a doctor, which includes recording injuries and taking DNA samples – the latter is absolutely vital in getting a conviction (it doesn’t have to be semen), and that’s why it’s important rape victims report their crime as soon as possible.
There are a number of specialist rape and sexual assault crisis centres (SARCs) and services offered by the Third Sector, including Welsh Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis, Survivor’s Trust and other independent sexual health and well being centres. Some of these are financially supported by Police & Crime Commissioners and the Welsh Government.
Victims of sexual crimes are also eligible for Victim Support services. Child victims can also seek services from the likes of Childline and the NSPCC.
Obviously, being seriously sexually assaulted, raped and/or abused as a child leaves a massive psychological scar on the victims, and probably physical injuries as well, so there’s a major role for the NHS. There’s evidence that large numbers of women (up to 40%) with severe mental illnesses are either victims of rape or domestic violence; the equivalent number of men is 12%. 53% of women raped as adults are also said to have attempted suicide.
As mentioned in Part I, there’s a huge problem of “victim blaming” when it comes to adult sexual assaults and rape. In fact, in recent crime surveys up to 10% (pdf – p25) of people think the victim was entirely or mostly to blame for being assaulted, whether that’s by being drunk or excessively flirting, and up to 25-30% think they’re at least partly to blame.
- I’m personally in favour of the courts/judiciary deciding sentences, not politicians, but there’s a case for longer minimum prison terms for rape (the average is about 8 years), particularly in cases where the evidence is completely watertight, there are multiple victims and/or the victim is a child.
- Rape should remain defined as a penetrative act, but could be expanded in name to include non-consensual sexual penetration by an object (which is currently classed as a serious sexual assault) or non-consensual sex where the victim has been spiked with drugs like Viagra.
- There’s no practical reason to change laws or guidelines on the sex offenders register, child sexual offences or child pornography (other than those already mentioned like “April’s Law”). However, there should be consideration to treating paedophilia and other extreme sexual paraphilias that would cause harm to others as a mental illness, with treatment and counselling provided (testosterone reduction therapy, for example) for those who seek help before they act out on it. Once they cross that line, then naturally they deserve whatever they get.
- Malicious rape and sexual assault accusations should be a separate criminal offence, but that doesn’t mean any allegation that results in an acquittal or dropping of charges is malicious; there has to be evidence of, or motive for, malice in a false allegation (that presumably would’ve come out in a trial itself).
Consent (Part I)
- The law should be changed so that any adult who’s severely incapacitated (a legal test would need to be created i.e. slurred speech, vomiting, unsteady on their feet) should automatically lose the ability to consent to sex or sexual acts. This should clear up ambiguity over drunkenness/drug use and rape and could mean cases where the victim was drunk or drugged are more likely to result in a conviction if there’s clear forensic evidence that something took place. The message needs to be: if there’s any sort of doubt or mixed-message on consent when drunk – don’t do it. Easier said than done, of course.
- Age of consent laws should be reviewed for consensual sexual activity between people who are both under the age of 16 but over the age of 14 and “close in age” (i.e. within two years). This shouldn’t be an offence and some jurisdictions like Canada have such “Romeo and Juliet” clauses.
- Even if the number of incest cases are likely to be very small, incest laws should be extended to cover first cousins with a ban on marriage too, including arranged marriages where one of the participants is resident in Wales. It’s not as genetically dangerous as first-degree relatives and is more a social taboo than anything else, but the gene pool needs to be protected somehow.
- Sex and relationship education in schools (Part VI) should be completely overhauled to include lessons on consent and hopefully change attitudes on victim blaming.
Duty of Care & Supporting Victims
- People accused of sex offences should be afforded anonymity until they’re formally charged (this should arguably apply to all crimes). There is, however, a counter-argument that revealing the name of the accused before they’re charged may encourage other victims to come forward (such as in cases of historic sexual abuse), but it could also lead to innocent (predominantly) men being stigmatised for life. Rape accusers/victims should continue to be afforded anonymity unless it’s eventually proven it was a malicious accusation (not just an acquittal).
- The burden of proof that someone consented to sex or sexual contact should be on the defendant; previous sexual history of the victim shouldn’t be taken into account in court (known as a “rape shield law”) except in exceptional circumstances (i.e. a history of making rape allegations that don’t go anywhere). There are moves by Liz Saville-Roberts MP (Plaid, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) to change the law at Westminster following the Ched Evans acquittal.
- There a clear need for more support for male victims of domestic violence (whether shelter spaces or counselling) based on the reported figures, though the onus should remain on women and children.