Sexual offences explained
What counts as a sexual offence? What happens if you commit a sexual offence, or someone commits one against you? The Sexual Offences Act 2003 governs sex laws in the UK. Here are the main points made simple.
Trigger warning: This article contains references to rape and sexual assault.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is an offence for any male to penetrate with his penis the vagina, anus or mouth of a female or male without their consent. A person found guilty of this offence could be sent to prison for life.
Assault by penetration
The Act makes it an offence for any male or female to penetrate the vagina or anus of another person without their consent. The offence is committed where the penetration is by a part of the body (for example, a finger) or anything else (for example, a bottle) for sexual intent.
Section 3 of the Act makes it an offence for any male or female to intentionally touch another person sexually without their consent. A person found guilty of sexual assault could be sent to prison for a maximum of ten years.
Sexual assault sentences
The sentence for someone charged with sexual assault in the UK could be anywhere from a community order to a ten year prison sentence. Sexual assault sentences depend on a number of factors, including the particular circumstances of the assault, the age and mental condition of the perpetrator (a person with a mental disability would have that taken into account) and whether they’ve taken steps to address the offending behaviour.
If you’ve had sexual assault charges brought against you in the UK, the prosecution must prove that:
- You intentionally touched another person.
- The touching was sexual.
- The other person did not consent to you touching them.
- You did not reasonably believe that the other person was consenting.
This is all outlined in section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Causing sexual activity without consent
It is an offence to cause or encourage another person to engage in sexual activity without their consent. If penetration is involved then a person found guilty of this offence could be sent to prison for life. If no penetration is involved then a person found guilty of this offence could be sent to prison for up to ten years.
What does ‘consent’ mean?
The definition of a sexual offence often revolves around consent. In simple terms, it’s an agreement to any sexual experience – from touching, kissing, taking intimate photos of each other or having full sex with them. This is something that must be clearly established between two people before any kind of sexual act or behaviour. If an individual is accused of a sex offence, they must show that they reasonably believed consent had been given by the other person. Learn more about what sexual consent means here.
Reporting sexual abuse
Many cases of sexual abuse never come to light. Victims can often feel ashamed and too scared to report it, fearing it could make a situation worse. Any form of sexual activity that’s against your will is sexual abuse. This includes bodily contact (such as sexual kissing, touching, fondling of genitals or penetration – oral, anal, or vaginal) and genital exposure (flashing), verbal pressure for sex and sexual exploitation through pornography or prostitution.
Sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) provide support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted or abused. They have specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers to care for you. Find your nearest SARC here.
If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault or rape and you’re still in school, there should be a safeguarding procedure in place if you tell one of your teachers. Ultimately, it’s the job of the police to investigate crimes like this, but we know that victims don’t always find it easy to come forward. If you find yourself in that position, remember you can always talk to us here at The Mix. We run a 24/7 crisis text line, webchat and a daily phone line. You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to, including your name. Here are a couple of other charities that can also help you decide what to do next, as well as providing general support:
Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. Give them a call on 0808 802 99 99.
SurvivorsUK offers advice and support to male victims of rape and sexual assault. Text on 020 3322 1860.
By The Mix UK
Updated on 31-Mar-2023
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