The Law

The Law – Rape and Sexual Offences

What is rape?

Rape is when a male penetrates someone’s mouth, vagina or anus with his penis without their consent.  It can only be committed by males as it involves a penis but both males and females can be the victims. 

What does consent mean?

Consent means agreeing to a sexual activity.  This agreement must be from your own free will and not just allowing someone to do something because you are scared of what they might do if you say ‘no’.

Do you actually have to say ‘no’ for it to be rape?

No.  The other person has to reasonably believe that you are consenting.  So if you are asleep for example, or very drunk, the person can’t say that you were consenting.  Many rape victims actually freeze rather than fight and scream when being raped or assaulted which is contrary to popular myth.  It is up to you whether you consent every time. No one can assume that you will consent just because you are married, in a relationship or have had sex before.

When does it become rape?

It becomes rape as soon as someone’s mouth, vagina or anus has been penetrated by a penis without consent. It is considered rape no matter how long the mouth, vagina or anus is penetrated for or whether the offender ejaculates or not.

Can children consent to sex?

There is a difference between a child agreeing to do something sexual and this being considered to be lawful consent to it. The general age at which children can give lawful consent is set at 16 in the UK.  Under this age any sexual activity is an offence even if both people involved wanted to do it. 

If a child is under 13 then the law considers that they are not capable of giving informed agreement (consent) to what happens and therefore any penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus of a person under that age is automatically classed as rape. So between 13 and 16 if the child agrees to the sexual activity it will not be rape but as stated above because they are not old enough to give lawful consent offences of sexual activity with a child are committed.

It is also an offence for a person in a position of trust (e.g. a teacher) over a young person between 16 and 18 to have sex with them whether or not they agreed to it.

What other sexual offences are there?

The Sexual Offences Act covers a range of offences, such as:

  • Rape
  • Assault by penetration.  This involves the penetration of the vagina or anus by something other than a penis (for example a finger or sex toy) and can be committed by males and females and the victim can be either gender. 
  • Sexual assault.  Any touching which is also indecent, for example, fondling someone’s breasts or genital area.
  • Sexual exploitation of children.  This can include making or allowing children to watch sexual acts or pornography or encouraging children to engage in sexual acts with adults or other children.
  • Possession of or making indecent images of children.

The law and rape abroad

If the offender was also a UK national the fact that an offence took place outside of the UK would not prevent the commencement of legal proceedings against the offender. As Section 72 Sexual offences Act 2003 which permits the commencement of proceedings in the UK if a UK national has committed a sexual offence which is an offence covered by law in the UK in a country outside the UK then the UK national would be guilty in England and Wales of that sexual offence.

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