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Sexual offences are life changing for all

Sexual offences as we all know are serious matters which carry for most the inevitable consequences of long custodial sentences and registration on the Sex Offenders Register.

Being convicted of a sexual offence will be a life changing matter. Those who are guilty and need help like counselling or psychological intervention will receive this in prison. Those who have made a serious mistake or a misjudgement influenced by alcohol or drugs, will see their life turned upside down, with the loss of jobs, stigma within a community and deprivation of liberty.

The recent conviction of Adam Johnson is a demonstration of the press interest and how society views these offences. Unfortunately, the use of social media and technology has made it a lot easier to commit sexual offences … knowingly and unknowingly.

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 children are protected from on and offline ‘grooming’ – communication with a child with an intention to meet and commit a sex offence. This means that communication with a child under the age of 16 with the intention to meet for a sexual purpose is illegal. Furthermore, meeting a child following the grooming process is also outlined as a criminal offence.

What could be described as ‘sexual banter’ over the Internet with a young person aged under 16 could easily be interpreted as ‘grooming’. A defence advanced of “no intention to commit a sexual act” would be hard to defend in the context of reviewing prior flirtatious messaging. Even if no sexual activity actually takes place, the process of ‘grooming’ and then meeting is an offence in itself.

The following are examples of offences which might not initially be seen as offences, but where the consequences can be catastrophic to the people involved.

Creating a Sexual Image

Two boys, studying A’ levels, saw a picture on Facebook of a girl (under 18 years-old) in their year at school, licking a big ice cream whilst on holiday. As a joke, the boy’s photo-shopped the picture with a cartoon graphic turning it into a sexual image. Initially this was seen as a joke, however, when the police became involved attitudes changed. The boys were interviewed for the offence of creating a sexual pseudo-image of a child, possession of a sexual image and distributing a sexual image due to its posting.

There was no defence of ‘it’s only a joke’ and, despite the boy’s good character; there was no legal defence to what they had done. Subsequently both boys received a police caution for the offence.

Possession of a sexual image of a child

A child is defined as a person under the age of 18. Possession of a sexual image of a person under 18, even if an image is sent with the child’s consent, is a serious offence. Some people may think this is an obvious offence. However the following scenario illustrates how people could unknowingly commit an offence.

A boyfriend and girlfriend stay the night together. They are both 17 years old and neither commits any crime as the age of consent is sixteen. The next day she sends him an inappropriate photo of herself. He now has a sexual image of a minor on his phone and is committing the offence of being in possession of a sexual image of a child. He then shows this to his friend and commits the offence of distributing a sexual image of a child.

The Sex Offenders’ Register

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 requires those convicted or cautioned for relevant sex offences, to notify the police of certain personal details including name, addresses and National Insurance numbers. Any change of name or address or if staying away for a qualifying period of time must be notified to the police within three days. Offenders must also re-notify the police of their details annually. The police keep this information on the Dangerous Persons Database ViSOR, in what has become commonly known as the Sex Offenders’ Register.

The law is changing alongside technology and people need to keep up-to-date or they may commit an offence unknowingly.

The new offence of Revenge Porn has recently been introduced. Revenge Porn is the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. The images are sometimes accompanied by personal information about the subject, including their full name, address and links to their social media profiles.

The offence applies both online and offline and to images which are shared electronically or in a more traditional way which includes the uploading of images on the internet, sharing by text and e-mail, or showing someone a physical or electronic image.

The government are launching campaigns like ‘Be aware b4 you share’ as clearly the legislators do not want people committing offences unknowingly and which will have drastic consequences.

Hunt & Coombs Solicitors are renowned as being one of East Anglia’s top Criminal Law specialists. We can provide free and confidential advice for police interviews in order to represent your interests. If you feel that you need legal advice on the criminal offences raised in this article please contact Andy Cave on 01733 882800.

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