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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Marital rape as serious as stranger rape
Two women being followed
Rape is devastating regardless of relationship
Rapists who know their victims should be given the same sentences as men who rape strangers, according to experts.

New recommendations have been drawn up to end the practice of imposing lenient prison terms on men who have raped their wives, girlfriends or women they have met on dates.

The Sentencing Advisory Panel, which assists the Court of Appeal on drawing up sentence guidelines, is urging a radical overhaul of punishment terms for rape.


Sentencing practice does appear to be more lenient when the victim and offender were known to each other

Professor Martin Wasik, panel chairman
The independent report wants the starting point for all rapes to be five years in prison.

Under current law, one in four rapists receive a prison sentence of less than five years.

Panel chairman Professor Martin Wasik said: "Sentencing practice does appear to be more lenient when the victim and offender were known to each other."

This was despite the fact that current guidelines, last issued in 1986, "do not mention the relationship between victim and offender as a factor that should affect the sentence", he said.

Clear statement

Rape is always seen as a very serious crime, and the impact on the victim is as great, regardless of the individual's relationship with the rapist, a report commissioned by the panel found.

Professor Wasik said: "It seemed clear to us from the outset that the relevance, if any, of a relationship between victim and offender was a factor that could not simply be ignored in new sentencing guidelines for rape."

The report advises new guidelines should include a clear statement that `relationship rape' and `acquaintance rape' are to be treated by the courts as being no less serious than `stranger rape'.

Rape support groups are unhappy with the panel's suggestion that rapists should be punished less severely where a victim, with whom they are "sexually familiar", says "no" at the last moment.

The report said that in this situation: "The offender's culpability for rape is somewhat less than it would have been if he had intended to rape the victim from the outset."

However, it says that given the serious nature of the offence of rape, whatever the circumstances, the sentence adjustment in such a case should, be relatively small

'Insulting' assumptions

Sandra McNeill, of the Rape Crisis Federation, said: "The idea that the sentence for rape should be lower if you have had some degree of intimacy with the man is shoring up the myth that men can't control themselves.

"Defence barristers have defined sexual familiarity as a kiss or a dance.

"This recommendation seems to be saying that all women should assume all men are beasts and behave accordingly - that is, never kiss them.

"Such thinking is as much of an insult to men as it is to women."

However, she said it did not undermine their backing of the panel's main recommendation on dealing with acquaintance rape in the same way as stranger rape.

"Rape by men we know should be treated as seriously as stranger rape," she said.

The report recommends an eight-year minimum jail term for particularly horrific rapes, for example the rape of a child or involving drugs to overcome a victim or where the rape results in a pregnancy.

Other rapes which would attract the eight-year minimum, would include group rapes.


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25 Sep 01 | England
14 Nov 00 | Wales
10 Mar 99 | UK
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