Sentencing for Sexual Offences Against Children


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Created on June 01, 2022

If you are convicted of a sexual offence against a child, there are a number of potential consequences. The range of sentences for sexual offences committed against a child are vast, varying from life imprisonment to community orders (i.e. working with the probation service in the community).

The sentence imposed will be determined by the sentencing guideline relevant to the particular offence and will depend upon the type and seriousness of the offence committed. Sexual offences range from the most serious (e.g. rape of a child) to comparatively less serious (e.g. non-contact offences, including being in possession of indecent images of a child).

The Sentencing Council’s Sexual Offences Definitive Guideline assists the court to determine the relevant sentence depending upon the offence committed and an assessment of ‘culpability’ and ‘harm’. There are usually a number of factors which the court will need to balance in order to arrive at the appropriate sentence: It is not a mathematical exercise, but rather, an assessment of a person’s blameworthiness and the damage caused as a result of their offending behaviour.

What sentence will I get for sexual assault of a child?

It very much depends upon the type of sexual assault and the assessment of culpability and harm. Assault of a child under 13 by penetration, for example, carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, with a range of 2 to 19 years imprisonment. Whereas sexual assault of a child under 13 (without penetration) could attract a much lesser sentence which can be served in the community, avoiding prison entirely.

How is the sentence calculated?

The starting point is to identify the relevant guideline for the offence. Let’s take sexual assault of a child under 13 as an example.

Step 1 is to identify the relevant category for ‘harm’: 1 being the most serious and 3 being the least serious. The guidelines assist with examples of what would be considered category 1 harm, category 2 harm and so on. Examples of the factors indicating varying levels of harm include severe or psychological or physical harm, touching of naked genitalia or naked breast area, a particularly vulnerable child due to extreme youth, or none of these.

Step 2 is to identify the relevant ‘culpability’ (i.e. how guilty a person is). Culpability A is the most serious and Culpability B the least serious. Culpability A involves behaviours such as a significant degree of planning, acting with others to commit the offence, use of drugs or alcohol on the victim to facilitate the offence, grooming and so on. Culpability B involves none of these.

Step 3 Once Culpability and Harm have been assessed, it is possible to identify the starting point for sentence. A category 2A offence, for example, has a starting point of 4 years imprisonment with a range of 3 – 7 years. The sentencing Judge will take the starting point of 4 years and then move up or down the range depending on the aggravating and mitigating features present. For example, whether a person has similar previous convictions, or were in breach of a court order when the offence was committed, whether they have demonstrated remorse, and so on.

Will I go to prison for Sexual Assault of a Child?

The majority of sexual offences committed against children will attract a prison sentence.  However, the Sentencing Guidelines generally state that where there are sufficient prospects of rehabilitation, an accredited programme, undertaken in the community, maybe an alternative to a short or moderate length prison sentence.  If a case falls into this category, it may be possible to persuade the court that a community penalty or suspended sentence should be imposed, rather than an immediate term of imprisonment.

The Probation Service will meet with you and prepare a report for the court’s assistance (pre-sentence report).  Provided you are deemed to be suitable, a community order or suspended sentence order with requirements such as attendance on the Sex Offender Treatment Programme may be considered a viable alternative to prison.

Will I be put on the Sex Offender’s Register?

A conviction for most forms of “sexual offence” especially those charged under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 or relating to the possession of indecent material, will give rise to the notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act, otherwise known as the Sex Offenders Register.

Will I be subjected to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order?

In most cases, the prosecution will apply for a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.  The purpose of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order is to reduce or eliminate the risk of a similar offence being committed in the future.  The Sexual Harm Prevention Order will contain a list of prohibitions which seek to control behaviour.  For example, if the offence is related to use of the internet, the Sexual Harm Prevention Order will regulate access to the internet and require you to retain your internet search history.  If the offence relates to a “contact” offence, the Sexual Harm Prevention Order will seek to regulate contact with persons deemed to be at risk, such as children.  The court has to be satisfied that each prohibition is necessary to prevent further relevant offences and are proportionate to the offence committed.

We entirely appreciate that for those of us who are not used to referring to the sentencing guidelines every day, identifying the likely sentence is not a straightforward exercise. Indeed, we try to avoid our client’s cases ever reaching the stage at which a sentencing exercise is necessary. Old Bailey Solicitors take a proactive approach to our client’s cases and attempt to prevent criminal proceedings at every stage where realistically possible. For a confidential, no-obligation chat about your individual circumstances, please contact us.



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