Age of consent
What's the age of sexual consent? And what if you, or the person who want to sleep with, is under it?
According to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is a criminal offence for any kind of sexual activity to take place between two people where one or both participants is under 16.
The law applies to men, women, gay, lesbian or straight in England and Wales.†A similar law exists in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the same rules apply except the age of consent is 17.
Technically, this can outlaw an intimate act like snogging if one or both of you is under age. However, the Government has stressed that the law is intended to protect children from abuse by adult sexual predators, and is not intended to be used to prosecute consensual teenage sexual behaviour.
The law is clear that anyone who has sex (or other sexual activity)†with someone aged 12 or under will automatically be committing rape, sexual assault or causing sexual activity without consent. This is sometimes known as 'statutory rape', although this term does not exist in the UK legal system.
However if someone is being charged with sexual activity with a 13-15 year old, how they are dealt with will depend on their age.†Someone aged†18 or over†will usually be dealt with more†severely than someone under 18.
This does not mean it is OK or legal to have sex with someone aged 13-15 if you are under the age of 18. You could still be prosecuted, even if the other person consented.
If someone is being charged with sexual activity with a 13-15 year old they can attempt to use the defence that they thought the other was over 16.
There are also different rules when one of the people involved is in a "position of trust" with the other person. For example, a teacher is breaking the law if they have sex with one of their students, even if they are over the age of 16.
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