Sexual Assault

What constitutes sexual assault?

It is an offence, as outlined in section 3 of the Sexual offences act 2003 for a male or female to intentionally touch anyone else (male or female) sexually, without that person’s consent. Any form of sexual contact against the will of a person is regarded as sexual abuse. It is for this reason that when those who are accused of ‘more serious’ offences, such as rape, they also may be accused and convicted of one or more counts of sexual assault.

Sexual assault against the person could be inappropriate touching or anything through to a life-threatening attack, rape or any other penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus. Although this will mean that there would be other counts of differing types of offences against the perpetrator.

What is the maximum penalty for Sexual Assault?

When a person is found guilty of sexual assault, the maximum penalty could be a 10 year custodial prison sentence.

Crimes in the Sexual Offences Act 2003


Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is illegal for a male to penetrate the vagina, anus or mouth of a male or female with his penis (oral penetration was previously not included in the definition before the 2003 amendment to the act). There has been some controversy surrounding issues of rape throughout history, especially between a man and wife, which has only recently legally been outlawed through case law precedent.

What is the maximum penalty for Rape?

When found guilty of rape, the convicted party could be sent to prison to serve a jail term for a maximum of ‘life’.

Assault by penetration

The Sexual Offences Act outlines that Assault by penetration is illegal; this means that it is an offence for a male or female to penetrate the vagina or anus of another person without their consent. Penetration can be by a part of the body, e.g. fingers, or anything else that is not a body part, used for the purpose of penetration (with sexual intent).

What constitutes consent?

It must be clear that consent was agreed between the accused and the prosecuting party/victim of sexual assault, for a verdict of not guilty to be reached at trial. When a person is accused of a sexual offence, they must be able to prove that they believed that they had consent (permission) from the accusing party/the other person for activity of a sexual nature to take place.

Forensic examination

For the victim of a sexual assault, it is a good idea to consent to a forensic examination. Clearly at such a traumatic time, many would not want to go through with an examination that can be considered ‘intrusive’, however, it is important for evidence against the person who has committed a sexual assault for use in criminal court proceedings. The examination is carried out by an appropriately trained doctor or nurse in a sexual assault referral centre or specially designated police suite. Samples will be taken such as hair, bodily fluids and swabs from anywhere on the body contacted during a sexual assault.  Following a forensic examination, it is still the decision of the person who was attacked, whether to press charges or not.