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Sexual Abuse is offensive no matter how historical

Lecturers of English law the world over will be using the cases that have arisen as a result of Operation Yew Tree to illustrate 3 important legal principles. Firstly, the English justice system is no respecter of persons – especially when it comes to sexual offences. It doesn’t matter how rich or famous you are. It doesn’t matter how powerful or big you are. It doesn’t matter how influential you are. If you sexually abuse the young and the vulnerable and you are caught, you will be prosecuted and punished. Secondly, the fact that the abuse is historical is of no significance whatsoever when it comes to establishing guilt. If Rolf Harris and Max Clifford ever doubted those principles, they don’t now. Delay in reporting this particular type of criminality often forms part of the dynamic of power that the offender relies on to get away with his crimes. This gives rise to the third big point of principle. It is important that the law has some sense of proportionality which includes recognising that the punishment has to reflect what the perpetrators would have received, had they been caught at or near the time of the offence. This principle is not to be equated with leniency but with equity, because in the same way that the passage of time cannot make an offence less serious, it cannot make it more serious neither.


The Yew Tree cases also illustrate a particularly sad, if somewhat predictable phenomenon that is often associated with sexual offending. Victim blaming. It is often put forward as a mitigating factor and even a complete defence sometimes, that the victim invited abusive attention because of the way that she was scantily dressed, was heavily made-up or was provocatively acting, for example when drunk. To give credence to this type of approach is to forget that the sexual offender is an offensive predator who seeks out the young and the vulnerable. He doesn’t expect to be reported and will use any available excuse to avoid justice if he is.


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