What is grooming?
The term grooming was coined to reflect the growing problem of those who use online facilities to talk to children with the ultimate goal of meeting them for the purpose of committing a sex offence. However, any communication with a child for the purpose of abusing them – in person or otherwise – is legally considered to be grooming.
Sexual Offences Act 2003
Under the Sexual offences Act 2003 (SOA 2003), s 14, it is an offence to arrange a meeting with a child under 16, for oneself or someone else, with the intent of sexually abusing the child. A person commits such an offence if:
- they intentionally arrange or facilitate something that they intend to do, intend another person to do, or believe that another person will do, in any part of the world; and
- doing it will involve the commission of an offence under any of ss 9 to 13 of SOA 2003 (ie, sexual activity with a child; causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity; engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child; or causing a child to watch a sexual act).
Someone found guilty of this offence will, on summary conviction, face up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine. If they are convicted in the Crown Court the maximum prison sentence is 14 years.
There is a defence to this offence if the person arranges or facilitates something that, although they believe an offence might happen, they do not intend it to happen, and they act for the protection of the child. A person acts for the protection of a child if their aim is to:
- protect the child from sexually transmitted infection;
- protect the physical safety of the child;
- prevent the child from becoming pregnant; or
- promote the child’s emotional well-being by the giving of advice.
An example of this would be where a person provides a condom to a girl under 16 to protect her from sexually transmitted infections/pregnancy where she says she is already having sexual intercourse.
Section 15 of SOA 2003 also make it a criminal offence to meet a child following the grooming process.
Someone aged 18 or over (A) commits this offence if they have met or communicated with another person (B) on at least two occasions and later intentionally meet B; arrange to meet B; A or B travel anywhere in the world with the intention of meeting each other and A has the intention of abusing them. For the offence to be committed, B must be under 16, and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over.
If guilty of this offence, the offender will face up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine if tried in the magistrates’ court, or a maximum prison sentence of 10 years if they are convicted in the Crown Court.
SOA 2003 makes it clear that no child under 13 years of age can ever consent to sexual activity. This means that sex with a child under 13 is automatically classified as rape and carries a maximum life sentence.
The Sex Offenders Register
Anyone convicted of a grooming offence under ss 14 or 15 of SOA 2003, is required to notify the police of certain details, either for a period of time or for life. These are known as ‘notification requirements’.
Within three days of the conviction (or within three days of release from prison if they are jailed for the offence) they must tell the police:
- their date of birth;
- their national insurance number;
- their name and any other names they use;
- their home address;
- the address of any other premises in the UK at which, at the time the notification is given, they regularly reside or stay;
- whether they have any passports and the details of any information recorded in them.
Any changes to the above information must be reported to the police within three days and if the offender spends seven days (either continuously or over a period of 12 months) in a different address to their home address, then this must also be notified. They must confirm annually to the police that the information remains the same.
How long someone remains on the Sex Offenders Register depends on the length of sentence handed down. It ranges from life for someone jailed for more than 30 months for a sex offence, to two years for someone cautioned for a relevant offence.
Risk of Sexual Harm Order
A new civil preventative order, the Risk of Sexual Harm Order, may be imposed which will prohibit adults from engaging in inappropriate behaviour such as sexual conversations with children online.