Daft sentencing committee wants to reduce prison time for rapists and wife beaters

// 12 March 2006

Rapists will no longer face such tough jail sentences and “date rapists” will be let off with lighter sentences, under new guidelines to be issued to judges, the Observer reveals.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council is to consult on the new guidelines, which have been drawn up to reflect the supposedly tougher prison regime.

Controversially, the council will also set out grounds where ‘mitigating circumstances’ will be taken into account. They are expected to include cases involving ‘sexual familiarity’ between rapist and victim before the attack.That could mean a woman and a man becoming intimate with the woman later refusing full sex, only to be overpowered. Such ‘date rapes’, where victims know their attacker, are the most common form of rape.

Critics accused the government of allowing a U-turn on violent crime. ‘Given that the earlier policy [of longer sentences] contributed to the fall in crime since the mid-Nineties, the new strategy will jeopardise public safety and the key target to reduce crime by 15 per cent by 2008,’ said Blair Gibbs, crime research officer at the right of centre think-tank Reform.

Unbelievably, the guidelines will be sent out for approval in the same week that the Government is to launch an anti-rape campaign.

This has me utterly gobsmacked. I’m not normally a proponent of the “bang um up” philosophy, but when someone has commited a heinous crime – murder, rape – it is only appropriate that they are put in prison for a relatively long time.

At the moment, according to the Observer, the average sentence for rape is seven years and four months. To have that reduced by 15% is totally unnecessary and sends out absolutely the wrong signal to a society that, as we know from the recent Amnesty survey, is already under a set of striking misaprehensions concerning this crime.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the SGC is to recommend that men who beat their wives are sent on “courses in the community challenging their attitudes to women” instead of to prison.

The SGC is totally out of touch with reality. It’s hard to think of much to say about this one, except for “are you insane?” At a time when one woman is killed by her partner every two or three days, does this unelected body really believe that it is appropriate to replace prison with re-education?

That’s not to say that this type of course doesn’t have its place – but if the perpetrators of domestic violence think that their only punishment is going to involve sitting in a room while someone attempts to drill some sense into their brain, what kind of a disincentive is that?

And what about the women (or, in rarer cases, men), who finally pluck up the courage to report their abusive “partner” to the police, fight through the courts to prove he or she was guilty, only to find they are released onto the streets?

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