New sentencing guidelines should distinguish between child abuse imagery offenders
New Scottish sentencing guidelines for indecent images offences should better distinguish between the characteristics and trajectories of those who only view indecent images of children (IIOC) and those who also commit contact offences against children.
The Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC) has published a new literature review carried out by Professor Melissa Hamilton of the University of Surrey and Dr Ian Belton of Middlesex University to inform its work on the guidelines.
The review found that there is little support for the proposition that viewing IIOC is a gateway to committing contact offences against children.
The impact on IIOC victims is also examined, including the long-term psychological and emotional harm, and damage to a child’s sense of privacy, dignity, and autonomy.
The report finds that victimisation as a child can lead to a number of serious challenges in adult life, including shame, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and relationship problems.
The report examines current sentencing practices and legislation in Scotland, England and Wales, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and the US. It also looks at the statistics on IIOC offences, including prevalence and type of crime, number of convictions and rates of imprisonment.
It considers the challenge of how to address the seriousness with which the public appear to view IIOC behaviour, while weighting sentences appropriately in comparison to other sexual offences.
The review explores the aggravating factors relevant to sentencing IIOC offenders, such as the severity of the image, age of children in images, acts involving production or distribution, length of time of offending behaviour, and the size of the collection.
Mitigating factors tend not to be unique to IIOC but generally include previous good character, lack of maturity, and steps taken to address offending behaviour.
Significant research has been undertaken on IIOC offenders — including female offenders —such as their motivations, situations, behaviours and course of action.
In a statement, the SSC said: “The Council is grateful to the authors of this comprehensive research, which will be of great assistance as it begins work on sentencing guidelines for offences involving indecent images of children.”