Rape is a criminal offence and defined under section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The offence requires the penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth, by a penis, without consent. People of any gender can be raped.
Sexual assault by penetration
Sexual assault by penetration is a criminal offence and defined under section 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The offence can be committed by a person of any gender and requires the penetration of the vagina or anus by a body part (such as fingers or tongue) or anything else (such as a bottle or vibrator) without consent. For example, a woman who penetrates another woman’s vagina with her fingers without consent would be charged with this offence. Unlike rape, this offence does not include penetration of the mouth. Sexual assault by penetration carries the same maximum penalty as rape.
Sexual assault is a criminal offence and defined under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The offence can be committed by a person of any gender and involves touching without consent where the touching is sexual. For example, the unwanted touching of someone’s breasts or a person’s genital area or buttocks, or unwanted kissing would be a sexual assault. The touching can be through clothing or anything else (such as a bedsheet) and includes touching done with any part of the body or anything else.
Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent
In English and Welsh law, it is also a crime to intentionally ‘cause’ another person to engage in sexual activity without their consent.
This could include:
- Making someone masturbate or touch themselves sexually.
- Making someone sexually touch or take part in sexual activity with another person – with or without that other person’s consent.
- Making someone be sexually touched by another person or having another person carry out sexual activity with them – whether the other person is consenting or not.
The tactics a perpetrator could use to ‘cause’ someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent include physical force, manipulation and threats.
It is an offence for a person aged 18 or over intentionally to behave in certain sexual ways in relation to a child aged under 18, where the person aged 18 or over is in a position of trust (defined as looking after a child aged under 18 who is receiving education at an educational institution). A person “looks after” a child in this context if he/she is regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or is in sole charge of a child or children (Sexual Offences Act 2003 sections 16 to 19).
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment means the behaviour has:
- violated someone's dignity, whether it was intended or not
- created a hostile environment for them, whether it was intended or not
Examples of sexual harassment include:
- Verbal harassment such as whistling, catcalling, sexual comments, sexual innuendo, telling sexual jokes and stories, spreading rumours about a person’s sex life
- nonverbal harassment such as looking someone up and down, displaying pictures of a sexual nature, sending emails containing sexual content, making sexual gestures, and asking for sex
- Unwelcome written or graphic material (in hard copy or electronic form) that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of gender or gender identity.
Some forms of sexual harassment may overlap with other criminal offences such as those relating to sexual offences, harassment, stalking, and revenge porn.