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Sexual offences explained

What counts as a sexual offence? The Sexual Offences Act 2003 governs sex laws in the UK. Here are the main points made simple.


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.

Sexual Assault

Section 3 of the Act makes it an offence for any male or female to intentionally touch another person sexually without his or her consent. A person found guilty of this offence could be sent to prison for a maximum of ten years.

Causing sexual activity without consent

It is an offence to cause or encourage another person to engage in sexual activity without his or her 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 all about permission (or agreement). 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.

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 constitutes as 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.

Updated: 01/10/2012

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