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Attitudes to sentencing sexual offenders

Scales of justice
Published: March 2012


To inform their review of current sentencing practice, the Sentencing Council of England and Wales commissioned us to conduct research on attitudes to sentencing sex offences with victims/survivors, and the public.


People who had experienced sexual offences

  • A sexual offence directly impacts upon a wide circle of people, as well as the survivor of the offence, such as their parents or family.
  • Survivors felt sexual offences such as rape could warrant life sentences for offenders, since they frequently described the impact of their experiences as a ‘life sentence’.
  • Following an offence, dealing with physical injury, psychological distress and post-traumatic stress disorder could harm the capacity to work and/or form relationships in the future.
  • It was felt the inherently harmful nature of sexual offences should always be taken into account when sentencing.

The general public

  • People widely support custodial sentences for sexual offences, which they felt would protect the public, punish the offender and acknowledge the seriousness of the offence.
  • There was wide variation in the actual suggested sentences across the focus group sample and participants found it difficult to reach consensus.


The research involved a rapid evidence assessment, 12 focus groups with the general public across England and Wales, and interviews with 46 people who had experienced a sexual offence or their parents/carers.

Read the report

Read survivors' stories