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Sex Laws Info

Offensive Communications


Improper use of a public communications network is already unlawful according to the Communications Act 2003. It defines improper use as sending a message that is "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

An Order which amended the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 made it possible for offences which are not primarily sexual in nature to be punishable by a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO). The provisions cover such activities as nuisance phone calls, obscene messages and harassment emails of a sexual nature.

Anyone issued with a SOPO is subject to its conditions. A SOPO bans a person from certain behaviour for a fixed period which must be five years or more. Think of it as a far more serious form of an ASBO! People issued with a SOPO are added to the sex offenders register.

The Register is designed to monitor and control the behaviour of, and therefore the risk posed by, sex offenders. The amendments are designed to include acts which are not in themselves sexual in nature but which relate to sex offences.

A person who has committed one of the offences listed may or may not be handed a SOPO and added to the Sex Offenders' Register. This is at the discretion of a judge or of the police, according to Home Office guidelines. Police and courts are advised to pursue the option of a SOPO if they think that a person will re-offend if not issued with one.

If you are considering reporting an offensive communication to a service provider who may be unfamiliar with the fine print of English law, it may well be worth your while to point out some of the above to them in your covering note. In the UK, the police, of course, should be aware of all this, but it won’t hurt to remind them should you contact them. So, with the combined force of the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act, the Communications Act and the SOPO - as well as the terms and conditions of internet service providers - it should now be possible to tackle the senders of offensive messages, put a stop to their abuse, and make them face the consequent penalties for their actions.