Date rapists face longer prison terms in shake-up

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The Independent Online

Date rapists would receive the same prison sentences as men who rape strangers, under guidance published yesterday by an independent body of experts.

Date rapists would receive the same prison sentences as men who rape strangers, under guidance published yesterday by an independent body of experts.

The new recommendations are aimed at ending the judicial practice of imposing lenient prison terms on men who have raped their wives, girlfriends or women they have met on dates.

The Sentencing Advisory Panel, which assists the Court of Appeal in drawing up sentence guidelines, wants the starting point for all rapes to be five years in prison. Under the current law, one in four rapists receives a prison sentence of less than five years.

This is the first time that rape guidelines, last set down by the Court of Appeal in 1986, have addressed the relationship between the rapist and the victim.

The panel chairman, Professor Martin Wasik, said: "It is clear from [our] research that the sense of violation experienced by the victim is just as great ... Although 'stranger rape' is seen as a more frightening and potentially dangerous experience, the breach of trust involved in 'relationship rape' or 'acquaintance rape' makes it equally serious."

But the 12 criminal justice experts, who make up the panel, rejected their own researchers' findings, which showed the public view was that rapists should receive harsher sentences. The panel also said that where a victim had been "sexually familiar" with a defendant and then "said 'no' to sexual intercourse at the last moment", the rapist should be punished less severely.

Sandra McNeill of the Rape Crisis Federation said: "The idea that the sentence for rape should be lower if you have had some degree of intimacy with the man is shoring up the myth that men can't control themselves." But she said that criticism should not undermine support for the panel's recommendation on dealing with acquaintance rape in the same way as stranger rape.