The Sexual Offences Act explained

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out the law regarding offences of a sexual nature in the UK.

The Age of Consent

In the England and Wales the age of consent to all forms of sexual activity is 16. This applies to both men and women. It applies to sexual activity between people of the same gender and people of different genders.

It is a criminal offence to have sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. It is also an offence for a person aged 18 or over to engage in sexual activity with a person under 18 if the older person is in a ‘position of trust’ (which includes teachers and club leaders) as the sexual activity is deemed to be a breach of trust.

The Act describes consent as:

‘a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.’


S.5-8 of the Act sets out the protections for children under 13. Children aged 12 and under cannot consent to any form of sexual activity.


Under the Act, rape occurs when a man intentionally penetrates with his penis, the vagina, mouth or anus of a male or female, without consent, or if the victim is under 13.

Sexual Assault by Penetration

This offence occurs when a male or female intentionally penetrates the vagina or anus of another person with a part of the offenders body or other instrument, without consent and with a sexual person. In the normal course of duty, medical practitioners will not be guilty of this offence.

Sexual Assault

It is an offence to touch another person with sexual intent without their consent, if the offender has no reasonable belief that the other person consented.


It is an offence for a person to expose their genitals with the intention of someone else seeing and with the intention of causing alarm or distress.


If a person interacts with a child online with the intention to meet and abuse the child, they have committed the offence of grooming.

Pornography and Child Abuse Images

This part of the Act sets out the offence of extreme pornography, which includes material featuring acts of people being physically hurt and animal abuse. It also sets out the offence of material containing child abuse.

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