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Definitions of
Sexual Violence

All types of sexual violence are serious. The law uses different terms such as ‘rape’, ‘assault by penetration’ and ‘sexual assault’ to differentiate between different types of offence, however any kind of sexual violence should be taken seriously. No matter what happened to you, it was not your fault. Blame is always with the perpetrator and never with the victim. No matter who you are, how long ago it happened or what took place, you deserve to be believed and supported. Whilst the list below defines these terms in regards to the law, we recognise that many survivors use the words they feel best describes their experiences and we encourage them to do so.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force on the 1 May 2004. It repealed almost all of the existing statute law in relation to sexual offences. To read about the Sexual Offences Act 2003 in more detail, visit the Crown Prosecution Website.


(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,

(b) B does not consent to the penetration, and

(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

(2) Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.

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.

Assault By Penetration

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) they intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person (B) with a part of their body or anything else,

(b) the penetration is sexual,

(c) B does not consent to the penetration, and

(d) A does not reasonably believe that B consents

This offence can be committed by either gender and carries the same sentences as rape. Assault by penetration is no less serious than rape.

Sexual Assault

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) they intentionally touches another person (B),

(b) the touching is sexual,

(c) B does not consent to the touching, and

(d) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

This offence can be committed by either gender. Sexual assault is any act of physical, psychological and emotional violation in the form of a sexual act, inflicted on someone without their consent. It can involve forcing or manipulating someone to witness or participate in any sexual acts.

Not all cases of sexual assault involve violence, cause physical injury or leave visible marks. Sexual assault can cause severe distress, emotional harm and injuries which can’t be seen – all of which can take a long time to recover from.

Definition of Consent

“…if they agree by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”

This can be broken down into two considerations:

  • Whether they had the capacity to make a choice about whether or not to take part in the sexual activity at the time in question. By capacity, this can mean whether they were old enough, whether they were intoxicated, or whether they had the mental capacity to choose (having learning difficulties for example.)
  • Whether they were in a position to make that choice freely, and they were not constrained in any way. This means without physical or mental coercion of any kind.
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)

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.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.
The Age of Consent

The legal age for young people to consent to have sex is 16, whether they are straight, gay or bisexual. The aim of the law is to protect the rights and interests of young people, and make it easier to prosecute people who pressure or force others into having sex they don’t want.

Although the age of consent remains at 16, the law is not intended to prosecute mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of a similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation. Young people, including those under 13, will continue to have the right to confidential advice on contraception, condoms, pregnancy and abortion.

There is no requirement to prove an absence of consent in cases of sexual offences involving children. Only the act itself and the age of the victim need to be proved. They include:

  • rape of a child under 13
    assault by penetration of a child under 13
  • sexual assault of a child under 13 and
  • inciting or causing a person to engage in sexual activity with a child under 13
  • child sexual offences involving children under 16
  • children under 18 having sexual relations with persons in a position of trust
  • children under 18 involved with family members over 18
  • persons with a mental disorder impeding choice
  • persons with a mental disorder who are induced threatened or deceived
  • persons with a mental disorder who have sexual relations with care workers
The Age of Consent

The position of trust offences in the new Act covers all children under 18. They are mainly designed to protect young people aged 16 and 17 who, even though they are over the age of consent, are potentially vulnerable to sexual abuse from people in positions of trust or authority.

People who are in these positions of trust will normally have power and authority in a child’s life, and may have a key influence on their future. They will have regular contact with the child, and may be acting in loco parentis (“in the place of a parent” refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent).