“Sexual Offences Against Children Occur in Varying Degrees of Severity” © Baschi Bender/MPI-CSL

If serious serial crimes involving child sexual abuse and the distribution of child pornographic images are detected, as was recently the case in Münster and Lügde, demands for a tightening of criminal law quickly follow. However, there is a discrepancy between public expectations and the scope for national legal policy, writes Tatjana Hörnle, director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law, in an essay. The legislator can only shape the level of penalties to a limited extent, she argues. In addition, potential offenders are not usually aware of the criminal provision that would apply, namely "whether the minimum penalty is six months or twelve months or the maximum penalty is five years or ten years," the professor of criminal law said. Sentencing ranges need to be flexible to accommodate both the lightest and heaviest offences.

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