Sexual Offences and the Age of Consent 

There are various sexual offences which are criminal under the laws of England and Wales which are governed by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Sexual Offences

The act defines the following as sexual offences:

  •   Rape

  •   Assault by Penetration

  •   Sexual Assault

  •   Inciting Sexual Activity without consent


Under the 2003 Act if a male is found to have penetrated the vagina of a female or the anus or mouth of a female or another male with this penis without their consent.

Possible prison sentencing  

The maximum penalty for someone found guilty of this offence is life imprisonment.

Assault by Penetration

Under the 2003 Act it is now an offence for either a male or a female to penetrate the vagina of a female or the anus of a male or female without that person giving their consent.  For this offence to occur the penetration can come from a body part, a finger being an example of this, but is also extended to include penetration from another object for sexual intent. An example of this second category would be a bottle, mobile telephone etc.

Possible Prison Sentencing

There is often an indeterminable prison sentence for this offence with it often depending on the nature of the case.

Sexual Assault

Under Section 3 of the 2003 Act it is an offence for any male or female to touch another male or female in a sexual manner with intention without that person giving their prior consent.

Possible Prison Sentencing

The maximum sentence for someone found guilty of sexual assault will be ten years imprisonment.

Inciting Sexual Activity without Consent

Under the 2003 Act it is an offence to cause or encourage another person to engage in sexual activity without his or her consent.

Possible Prison Sentencing

The length of the sentence in this case depends on whether the sexual activity included penetration or not. If the activity did include penetration then the offence will be treated along the lines of rape and the maximum penalty could be life imprisonment. If the sexual activity involved no penetration the offence will be treated along the lines of sexual assault and carry and maximum prison sentence of ten years.


Definition of Consent  

All the above sexual offences centre around consent. In broad terms this means whether the individual involved agreed to or provided permission for the sexual activity to take place. This can often be express or implied and the accused will have to show that he or she reasonably believed that consent was given for the sexual act to take place.

Age of Consent

The age of consent is the age whereby an individual can partake in consensual sexual activity with another individual. It is set at 16 regardless of whether the individual is partaking in heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual acts.

Why do we have an age of consent?

The Law is designed to protect the rights and interests of young people who are not yet old enough to make a choice about engaging in sexual activity and specifically to focus on those individuals who apply pressure and attempt to force young people to engage in sexual activity.

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 the law does not have the intention of prosecuting young people who engage in sexual activity with other young people unless the case involves some form of exploitation or abuse.

As a young person do I have a right to confidential advice?

Under the 2003 Act all young people including those under 13 will have the right to confidential advice concerning such issues as condom’s, contraception, pregnancy and abortion.

Is there any protection for young people over the age of 16?

Under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 there were a variety of positions of trust offences set out which have subsequently been re-enacted by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The position of trust offences are in place to try to protect children over the age of 16, who despite being over the age of consent have the potential to be vulnerable to sexual abuse by people in positions or trust.

Position of Trust

A position of trust is a position or occupation that often has power or authority over a child’s life and in some cases an influence on the future of that child. 

Under the act the following are said to be positions of trust:

  • Individuals working in Young Offenders Institutions

  • Individuals working in hospitals

  • Individuals working in Educational Institutions

  • Individuals acting as legal guardians

Abuse of Trust Offences

The abuse of trust offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 occur when a child under 18 is involved whereas for member of the general public who are not in these positions of trusts the offences will occur when the child is under 16.

The following offences are included under the Act:

  • Sexual Activity with a child – this includes any kind of sexual touching

  • Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity

  • Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child

  • Causing a child to watch a sexual act


In the case where the individual is married to the young person or they were in a relationship before the position of trust arose then they will not be included within the position of trust offences.