A modest media storm this week over the decision by the Court of Appeal that a judge was right to have increased the sentence of a man for sexual offences against young girls ‘because his victims were Asian’. It’s going to do well: sex, race, ‘out of touch’ (or was it ‘politically correct’?) judges and the suggestion that a racial minority get some form of preferential treatment.
The Court of Appeal held that it was proper for a man convicted of sexually abusing young girls to have been given a longer than normal sentence because his victims were Asian and might suffer particular shame in their communities. Their prospects of an arranged marriage might also suffer.
The NSPCC were asked for comment and weighed in against the courts: ‘British justice should operate on a level playing field and children need to be protected irrespective of cultural differences’ they fumed. There was even a suggestion that ‘white’ girls were left relatively unprotected by the ruling. This is no doubt because abusers read Court of Appeal judgments and sentencing guidelines before deciding on the identity of their victims.
This is not difficult stuff. For 20 years or so the criminal courts have been moving towards punishing people for the effects of their actions rather than just for the actions themselves. If you push someone over and they get a bruise on the bottom you are charged with common assault; if that same push causes them to hit their head and die, it’s manslaughter at the least.
This is reflected in sentencing guidelines which all judges must follow. If the offence has had a severe physical or psychological effect on the victim this will be an important ‘aggravating factor’ which will increase the defendant’s sentence. Its part of the principal of ‘taking your victim as you find them’. Victims, and not just of sexual offences, are encouraged to write impact statements, setting out how the crime has affected them. The harm might be depression, severe anxiety, panic attacks or other problems which can afflict people of any race or background. In this case, the judge allowed that social stigma and pressures can add to the psychological harm for an individual victim. Whether that is true or not is another matter, but the principle seems proper.