This is part of a wider consultation on a new guideline for sentencing sexual offences.
The offences that will be dealt with in this part of the consultation are:
sexual activity with a child;
causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity;
sexual activity with a child family member;
inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity;
engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child; and
causing a child to watch a sexual act.
These draft guidelines are for offenders who are under 18 years of age.
When committed by young offenders, these offences have a lower statutory maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment but, in all other respects, are equivalent to the adult offences.
The type of sexual activity that falls within the scope of child sex offences is broad. It is a difficult and sensitive area of the law when dealing with offenders under 18 as it includes both inappropriate and exploitative sexual behaviour but could also include offences committed as part of non-exploitative sexual experimentation between two young people.
For example, sexual activity with a child would include a 17 year old who exploits and gives alcohol to a 13 year old and coerces her into performing oral sex. However, it would also cover a 16 year old boy in a sexual relationship with a 15 year old girl where there is no exploitation.
When sentencing a young offender, the options available are different from those available for adults. Most young offenders are sentenced in the youth court where the maximum sentence that can be passed is a two year detention and training order.
Where a young offender has been convicted for the first time and the sentencer does not impose a custodial sentence, the youth court is required to make a referral order under which the offender will be referred to a Youth Offender Panel which will then take appropriate action, including by way of restorative justice.
The youth court can also impose youth rehabilitation orders which are community based sentences within which various requirements can be made.
A particular feature of the youth justice system is that custody is considered as a last resort. As these rules are determined by legislation, they are outside the scope of the consultation but they are important in understanding how a sentencer must approach a sentencing exercise.