New guidelines on intimidatory offences and domestic abuse

The Sentencing Council has published proposed new guidelines for how people convicted of intimidatory offences and offences involving domestic abuse should be sentenced. The intimidatory offences guideline covers harassment, stalking, disclosing private sexual images, controlling or coercive behaviour, and threats to kill.  The domestic abuse guideline covers all offences which occur within a domestic context such as assault, sexual offences or criminal damage.

The Council’s aim in introducing the guidelines, which are now subject to public consultation, is to provide consistent and comprehensive guidance for judges and magistrates in sentencing these related offences.

It marks the first time that guidelines have been produced for stalking, and for the offences of disclosing private sexual images and controlling & coercive behaviour which have both come into force in recent years.

The offence of disclosing private sexual images, commonly known as revenge porn, was introduced in 2015. The guidelines reflect that it is a particularly unpleasant and intrusive offence: any offence of this type can cause very serious distress to the victim. While the offence always involves the intention to cause distress, the guidelines identify some of the factors that make these offences particularly serious. This includes aiming to maximise distress by for example sending images to a victim’s family, or significant planning, such as setting up fake social media profiles to post the images, and inviting comment and contact, which could result in abuse and sexualised contact from strangers.

The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship also came into force in 2015, aiming to provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse. Coercive and controlling behaviour can include the abuser preventing their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money and determining many aspects of their everyday life, such as when/what they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet.

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