Sex Offences

Covering Sex Offences

When a person is a victim of a sexual offence, such as rape, sexual assault – they are automatically given lifelong anonymity by the court under the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992.

Under Section One of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992 after an allegation of a sex offence has been made it is illegal to include in any publication any matter which is likely to lead member of the public to identify, during his or her lifetime, the person who is the victim/ alleged victim of that offence.

The ban includes:

  • The name
  • Address
  • The identity of any school or other educational establishment attended by them
  • The identity of his or her place of work
  • Any still or moving picture of him or her

The order starts from the moment an allegation is made by the alleged victim or anyone else, even if no one is charged, and it is automatic.

It remains in place regardless of whether the allegation is later withdrawn, or whether the police are told, whether an offended is prosecuted and whether anyone is convicted.

The anonymity applies to anyone who is the target of an attempt or conspiracy to commit a sex act.

It applies to babies or adults with mental incapacity and anyone who cannot complain for themselves.

You have to be aware of jig-saw identification.

Parliament gave victims anonymity in 1976 to save them the embarrassment and trauma of giving evidence in court.

It applies to crime stories, reports of trails and civil cases.

For example, a woman who alleges she was raped sued her rapist in a civil court you cannot name her even if she loses her case.

If you cover an employment tribunal where an employee alleges sexual harassment they have anonymity.

Jigsaw Identification

  • Section One of the Act bans the publication of matter that is ‘likely to lead’ to identification.
  • Naming a large school and saying the victim was a pupil is unlikely to lead to identification but if you included other information saying they were a 14-year-old violinist, might.
  • You have to be careful how other media organisations cover the same case. For example you may report the victim as a mum of three from East Hull, the radio may report she is a nurse and the television says it is a 31-year-old then her colleagues might identity her and you would all breach the act.
  • In reports about allegations of abuse within a family the media organisations should agree beforehand to either name the adult defendant and omit the relationship to the child or not identify the adult defendant and describe the abuse.
  • Also the Editors Code of Practice forbids the identification of a child in sex cases.

Some media organisations have been fined for inadvertently publishing material that breaches the law regarding the reporting of sex offences.

In 2006 the Daily Telegraph was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 compensation for breaching it and the Daily Express were fined £2,700 and ordered to pay £10,000 compensation after they published pictures of a servicewoman who claimed she had been sexually assaulted.

  • In some circumstances, the order can be lifted or varied to enable the media to report a case.
  • Clause 11 of the Editors Code of Practice says that the press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.
  • Clause 7 of the Editors Code of Practice says the press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.

There are only four ways you can identify a sex victim and that is:

1) If they die.

2) If they sign a waiver to lift their anonymity.

3) If they have lied and made a false allegation.

4) If they are convicted of a crime and use the fact they were the victim of a sex offence as mitigation.


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