Letter: When the sentence is a second assault

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is a disturbingly naive assumption that a pounds 500 holiday can help a child to overcome the damaging effects of a serious sexual assault such as rape ('Judges also need reviewing'; leading article, 9 February). I would like to place this individual decision in a wider context of the sentencing guidelines on incest (Attorney General Reference 1, 1989) to which you refer in your article.

The guidelines laid down by the then Lord Chief Justice are based on a number of mistaken and dangerous assumptions about sexual abuse and sex offending behaviour. The guidelines, for example, refer to a number of mitigating factors which should be taken into account when sentencing the abuser. These include genuine affection displayed on the part of the defendant, and where the victim has had previous sexual

experience. We know from clinical research and experience that the closeness of relationship between a victim and the abuser often results in a greater betrayal of trust and has more harmful consequences for the victim. To use the child's previous sexual experience as a mitigating factor in sentencing the abuser is implicitly to blame the child for the abuser's actions.

We would urge that the sentencing guidelines on incest are now reviewed and that the judiciary are provided with the training to help them understand sexual abuse and the reality of sex-offending behaviour.

Yours faithfully,



The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

London, EC1

10 February