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Sexual Offences

What are sexual offences?

Sex offences are crimes that are covered by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The first part of the Act covers sexual offences.  The second part covers offenders with an emphasis on the protection of vulnerable individuals.

It gives a comprehensive list of sex offences to protect individuals from abuse and exploitation, and is designed to be fair and non-discriminatory.

Rape and Consent

Rape includes penetration of the mouth as well as penetration of the vagina or anus by the penis.

The new measures of consent are designed to redress the balance in favour of victims without prejudicing the defendant's right to a fair trial, to help juries reach just and fair decisions on this difficult area of criminal law:

  • Consent is defined by law as: a person consents if he or she agrees by choice to the sexual activity and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
  • All the circumstances at the time of the offence will be looked at in deciding whether the defendant is reasonable in believing the complainant consented.
  • People will be considered most unlikely to have agreed to sexual activity if they were subject to threats or fear of serious harm, unconscious, drugged, abducted, or were unable to communicate because of a physical disability.

Child Sex Abuse

Those accused of child rape can no longer argue that the child consented. Any sexual intercourse with a child under 13 will be treated as rape. Other non-consensual offences against children under 13 are sexual assault by penetration, sexual assault, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

There are new offences of sexual activity with a child under 16. These cover a range of behaviour, involving both physical and non-physical contact. As children and young persons commit sexual crimes on other children, these offences apply also to persons under 18.

Prosecutions of persons under the age of 18

The age of consent is 16. Because children can and do abuse and exploit other children, the Act makes it an offence for children under 16 to engage in sexual activity, to protect children who are victims.

However, children of the same or similar age are highly unlikely to be prosecuted for engaging in sexual activity, where the activity is mutually agreed and there is no abuse or exploitation.

The Crown Prosecution Service has issued guidance to prosecutors, which sets out the criteria they should consider when deciding whether or not it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution.

How does the law affects those who advise children?

A person does not commit an offence of aiding or abetting a child sex offence if they give advice to children in order to:

  • protect them from sexually transmitted infection,
  • protect their physical safety,
  • prevent them from becoming pregnant, or
  • promote their emotional well-being.

This means that parents, doctors, other health professionals, in fact anyone can provide sexual health advice to children as long as their only motivation in doing so is the protection of the child.

However, people who cause or encourage the child to engage in the activity, or 'advise' children for their own sexual gratification, will be liable to prosecution.

What about abusive parents and carers?

Child sex offences cover not only assaults by blood relatives but also foster and adoptive parents and live-in partners.

To protect vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds, the offences of 'abuse of a position of trust' prohibits sexual contact between adults and children under 18 in schools, colleges and residential care.

Sexual Offences involving the Internet, and 'grooming'

To combat increasing sexual approaches to children on-line, there is a new offence of meeting a child following sexual grooming. This makes it a crime to befriend a child on the Internet or by other means and meet or intend to meet the child with the intention of abusing them. The maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment.

A new civil preventative order, the Risk of Sexual Harm Order, may be imposed which will prohibit adults from engaging in inappropriate behaviour such as sexual conversations with children on-line.

How are convicted sex offenders monitored?

Convicted sex offenders have to:

  • report each year to their local police regardless of whether their circumstances have changed
  • inform the police if they change their name or address within three days (previously fourteen days)
  • disclose if they spend seven days or more away from home
  • supply their national insurance number

Failure to report is a criminal offence that carries a prison term of up to five years.

Other preventative measures include:

  • Sex Offender Preventative Orders can be imposed on anyone convicted of a serious violent offence if there is evidence that they pose a risk of causing serious sexual harm.
  • "Sex tourists" convicted of sex crimes abroad may have to comply with the notification requirements.
  • Courts in certain circumstances, can prohibit those convicted of a sexual offence against a child under 16 from travelling abroad.
  • Police can apply for a Risk of Sexual Harm Order against any person thought to pose a risk to children under 16.

Other Offences in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act

There are offences against:

  • trafficking persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation;
  • child abuse through prostitution and pornography. These include:
    • buying sexual services of a child,
    • causing, encouraging, arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography, and
    • controlling any of the activities of a child involved in prostitution or pornography;
  • sexual abuse of vulnerable persons with a mental disorder. These include situations where:
    • they are unable to refuse because of a lack of understanding,
    • they are offered inducements, threatened or deceived, and
    • there is a breach of a relationship of care, by a care worker;
  • voyeurism, that criminalises those who watch for sexual gratification people engaged in a private act without their consent;
  • exposure, where a man or woman exposes their genitalia with intent to cause alarm or distress;
  • preparatory offences, such as:
    • drugging a person with intent to engage in sexual activity with that person;
    • committing any offence with intent to commit a sexual offence; and
    • trespassing on any premises with intent to commit a sexual offence;
  • engaging in sexual activity in a public lavatory.