There are a range of crimes that can be considered as sexual offences, including non-consensual crimes such as rape or sexual assault, crimes against children including child sexual abuse or grooming, and crimes that exploit others for a sexual purpose, whether in person or online.
Crimes can occur between strangers, friends, acquaintances, current or ex-partners, or family members. The passage of time does not prevent the effective prosecution of sexual offences, and an increasing number of cases referred to the CPS by police feature allegations of a non-recent nature.
Sexual offences are prosecuted as part of the CPS Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy. This is an overarching framework to address crimes that have been identified as being committed primarily but not exclusively by men against women.
These crimes include domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences, stalking, harassment, so-called ‘honour-based’ violence including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child abuse, human trafficking focusing on sexual exploitation, prostitution, pornography and obscenity.
This CPS approach to VAWG crimes follows United Nations conventions which the UK government has ratified, and which inform the cross-government VAWG framework. However, the Annual Violence Against Women and Girls report published by the CPS includes data on all perpetrators and victims, irrespective of gender. The CPS is determined to secure justice for all victims, and recently reaffirmed our commitment to male victims.
For more information about how prosecutors should approach the prosecution of rape and sexual offences, including the application of the Code for Crown Prosecutors, please see our Rape and Sexual Offences Legal Guidance.
The specific legal definitions of rape and other sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 can be found on the legislation.gov.uk website.
A rape is when a person uses their penis without consent to penetrate the vagina, mouth, or anus of another person. Legally, a person without a penis cannot commit rape, but a female may be guilty of rape if they assist a male perpetrator in an attack.
Sexual assault is where one person intentionally touches another person sexually without their consent. The touching can be done with any part of the body or with an object.
Assault by penetration is where a person intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person with any part of their body or an object without that person’s consent. The penetration has to be sexual.
A child is defined as any person under the age of 18. Child sexual abuse involves forcing or inciting a child to take part in sexual activity, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening and not necessarily involving a high level of violence.
This may involve physical contact including rape or oral sex, or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or exploiting or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet) or prostitution. Child sexual abuse can be committed by both men and women, or other children.
The Independent Inquiry into Child abuse was established in 2015 to investigate the extent to which public and other non-state institutions in England and Wales failed to protect children from child sexual abuse, and to make recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for children in future. The CPS is cooperating fully with the Inquiry, and is a core participant in several of its strands.
More information: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/
There are a number of offences related to prostitution. However it is not illegal for people to exchange money or other commodities for sex. CPS prosecutions focus on those who force others into prostitution, who exploit, abuse and harm them. Our joint approach with the police, with the support of other agencies, is to help those involved in prostitution to develop routes out. We focus on charging offences of causing, inciting or controlling prostitution for gain, or trafficking for sexual exploitation.
It is however an offence for a person, male or female, to persistently loiter or solicit in a street or public place in order to offer their services as a prostitute, pay for sexual services, operate or own a brothel, advertise prostitution or to engage in kerb crawling, where a person solicits another in a street or public place for the purposes of prostitution.
Extreme pornography describes pornographic images that are grossly offensive, disgusting or obscene, and portray a range of extreme acts in an explicit and realistic way. This may include images of extreme violence, mutilation, or sexual activity with an animal that are intended to sexually arouse.
Disclosing private sexual images without consent (so-called ‘revenge pornography’). This relates to private sexual photographs and films of a person that have been disclosed without the consent of an individual who appears in them, with intent to cause that individual distress. Such images may be uploaded onto the internet, often by a person’s ex-partner, to cause them distress, humiliation or embarrassment.
Indecent images of children is an offence to take, to permit to be taken, to make, to possess, show, or to distribute or publish an image of a child posed or pictured indecently, for example in a sexual way. This can also include images of adults involved in indecent act where a child is present but not themselves portrayed indecently. Images can include actual photographs or video footage, drawings or tracings, or images created digitally. ‘Making’ an indecent image does not just refer to a person taking a photo or video - it can also refer to a person downloading or printing an indecent image, or opening an email attachment containing an indecent image.