What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault/rape is any type of sexual act occurring without the consent of one of the people involved. There are a variety of legal definitions of sexual offences.

Who is raped or sexually assaulted?

Any person of any age, class or background.

The assailant is often a known person such as a relative or partner, but they may also be a stranger or someone who very little is known about.

The attack may happen indoors or outdoors. The assailant may break in to the victim’s home, may be invited in, or may force the victim to enter their home. There may be more than one assailant.

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 of any kind. This means actually wanting to do something not just saying yes out of fear of the consequences of saying no.

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

No. The other person has to have a reasonable belief that you are consenting. So if you are asleep for example, or very drunk, they couldn’t claim that they thought you were consenting. Contrary to popular myth (see the Myths section) many rape victims freeze rather than fight and scream. Nobody can assume that you will consent just because you are married, in a relationship or have had sex with them before, it is up to you whether you consent or not every single time.

When does it become rape?

As soon as someone’s mouth, vagina or anus has been penetrated by a penis, that is rape, no matter how long for or whether the offender ejaculates or not. Penetration is to any degree.

Can children agree to sex?

The law considers that children under 13 cannot give their consent to any sexual activity therefore any penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus of a person under that age is automatically rape. The age at which children can legally consent to sexual activity is 16 so it is an offence to have sex with a child who is between the ages of 13 and 16 even if that child is willing to participate, although as there is the element of consent it is not rape. In some circumstances, for example a teacher/pupil relationship or other position of trust is unlawful to have sex with someone under 18.

What other sexual offences are there?

The Sexual Offences Act is quite complex and covers a lot of offences as well as rape and sexual assault, such as sexual exploitation, prostitution and possessing or making indecent images. There are a variety of offences involving adults encouraging or forcing children into sexual acts of exposing them to sexual acts or pornography. Essentially if someone does something to you against your will in a sexual way it is likely to be an offence. An offence similar to rape is that of ‘Sexual Assault by penetration’ which involves the penetration of the vagina or anus by an object other than a penis (for example a finger or sex toy). This can be committed by males and females and the victim can be either gender.

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