Tougher penalties for sex offenders

New laws governing sex offences came into force on May 1.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003, billed as the most radical reform
of sex offences for more than 100 years, is intended to offer
better protection for children and vulnerable people.

The Act introduces a new “grooming” offence that
carries a 10 year maximum jail sentence. This aims to catch adults
who meet and intend to sexually abuse a child after grooming them
via the internet or otherwise. The Act also means sex with children
aged 12 or under will be automatically charged as rape, with a
maximum sentence of life.

The Act requires people on the sex offenders’ register to
confirm their details annually, in person, and allows orders to be
made banning individuals convicted of a sex offence against a child
from travelling anywhere in the world.

Clarification is also given on the position of those who advise
children on sexual matters. People who provide advice to children
on sexual health in order to protect their physical safety or
emotional well-being, or to prevent sexually transmitted disease or
pregnancy will be exempt from prosecution for aiding or abetting a
child sex offence.

Christine Atkinson, policy advisor for the NSPCC, said that the
Act represents the most significant package of sex offence
legislation in years.

“For too long child sex offenders have been able to walk
away from their crimes with short and insufficient
sentences,” she said.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 gained Royal Assent on 20 November
last year. The proposals were developed from the Sex Offences
Review set up by the government in 1999.

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