New research finds public sentencing of rape offenders in line with actual sentences

New research finds public sentencing of rape offenders in line with actual sentences

New research suggests that while the public views sentencing for sexual assault and rape as lenient, their sentencing choices, when they are presented with case scenarios, are in line with actual sentences.

The findings are in two new research reports from the Scottish Sentencing Council, which is developing sentencing guidelines for the offences of rape, sexual assault and indecent images of children.

The reports review the information available on the sentencing of rape and offences involving sexual assault in Scotland and other jurisdictions.

The literature reviews, carried out by Dr Rachel McPherson, Mr Nicholas Burgess, Dr Jay Gormley and Professor Cyrus Tata of the School of Law at the University of Glasgow and the Centre for Law, Crime and Justice at the University of Strathclyde, also include an overview of studies which have examined public perceptions of rape and sexual assault sentencing.

Both reviews discuss the significance of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, which altered the law of sexual offences extensively, creating a new statutory framework distinguishing consent-based offences and non-consent-based offences, with the culpability of the offender being directly related to the victim’s capacity to consent.

Sentencing practice in Scotland was also considered. For rape, the “overwhelming” majority of convicted offenders – between 90 and 96 per cent each year – receive a prison sentence.

The most common penalties for sexual assault convictions are community payback orders and prison sentences. The reviews note the specific considerations involved in the sentencing of sexual crimes as compared with other types of offence: the particular risks to the victim/survivor, such as pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections; and the psychological harm caused, which is likely to be given greater weight than in other types of case.

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