Sentencing Sexual Abuse Offenders: Sex Crimes and Social Justice

  • Clare MacMartin
  • Linda A. Wood


A major challenge in adjudicating criminal cases of sexual assault concerns the typical characteristics of sexual offences (for example, the frequent lack of physical harm to victims and the usual absence of obvious antisocial conduct by offenders). It has been claimed that these features are often used to discount the seriousness of sexual offences. Moreover, the sexualised aspects of these crimes are viewed as undermining recognition of their inherent violence, such that references to the sexual motives of offenders or to the sexual details of the offences guarantee that they will not be taken seriously. Some feminist theorists and legal critics have argued that sexual assaults, including child sexual abuse, must be seen as acts of power and violence; both offences and offenders’ motives must therefore be described in terms of violence. Such claims are frequently offered in the context of social justice considerations related to judicial decision-making. However, there are a number of problems with both the arguments and the analyses on which they are based. We first consider Canadian law, review some relevant Canadian literature and discuss some of these problems. We then further explore these concerns in relation to our previous analyses of Canadian judicial sentencing decisions in cases of child and adolescent sexual assault. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications for the sex-versus-violence debate in theorising about sexual crimes and for social justice issues in sentencing.


Child Sexual Abuse Sexual Gratification Sexual Offence Sexual Motive Guilty Plea 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clare MacMartin
  • Linda A. Wood

There are no affiliations available

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