The Justice Secretary, The Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, has announced a new offence of sexual communication with a child to come into force on the 3rd of April 2017. She stated:
“In a world of mobile phones and social media, our children are ever more vulnerable to those who prey on their innocence and exploit their trust.
This new offence will help to us tackle the early stages of grooming, and nip in the bud those targeting children online or through text messages. My message is clear – any sexual communication with a child could see you behind bars.”
This offence is classed as an either-way offence, which means the case can be heard, either in a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court. The offence will carry a maximum jail sentence of 2 years and being automatically placed on the sex offenders register.
This new classification criminalises conduct of an adult who intentionally communicates with a child under the age of 16 (whom the adult does not reasonably hold the belief for them to be aged 16 or over) with the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification if that communication is sexual in nature or it’s intent is to encourage that child to make a communication that is sexual.
Situations that will be covered by the offence include talking sexually to a child in an online chatroom, sexually explicit SMS text messages to a child along with inviting a child to communicate sexually ( whether the invitation itself is sexual or not ).
The new offence is designed to ensure that it does not criminalise ordinary social or educational interactions between children and adults or communications between young people themselves in an ever increasing age of technology and mobile communication and improves the law substantially as prior to this new offence, sexualised communication with children that was text based was not actually a criminal offence on its own unless paired with an actual attempt to meet up with a child.
Case law confirms that the term “Sexual gratification” has a wide meaning stating that sexual gratification which is alleged may take any of the myriad forms which sexual pleasure or indulgence may take. The term is already used in context of offences at sections 11 and 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 which prohibit engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child and causing a child to watch a sexual act respectively.
The charity, Rape Crisis welcomed the news and has issued a statement saying:
“Rape Crisis has provided its specialist support services to increasing numbers of child and adults who have been groomed and sexually exploited in recent years. New technologies have increasingly become tools employed by rapists and sexual offenders to target and abuse. Measures like the introduction of this new offence, aimed at protecting children from this kind of exploitation, are essential.”
If you or someone you know has been a victim of grooming or offences of a sexual nature then you can speak confidentially to one of our experts who can advise you the best way to proceed. Contact us securely online or call free on 0800 3 10 11 12.