What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence means any form of unwanted sexual touch or activity, including rape, child sexual abuse or exploitation, sexual assault, female genital cutting, trafficking and abuse linked to faith or belief.

While sexual violence can be committed by a stranger, it is often perpetrated by someone you know and trust such as a current or former partner or spouse, acquaintance, friend, family member or colleague. Sexual violence can affect anyone, and is never your fault. No one can invite, ask for or be responsible for being raped, abused or exploited in any way; it is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator.

The law around sexual violence

UK law defines rape as penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus of a person by the penis of the perpetrator, without that person’s consent.

There is another offence which covers penetration of the vagina or anus of a person without consent with any other body part of the perpetrator, or with an object. This offence is called assault by penetration and carries the same maximum legal penalty as rape.

Sexual assault is defined as sexual touching by the perpetrator, above or below the clothes, that happens without consent. It is also an offence for a perpetrator to force, threaten, manipulate or deceive any person into watching or participating in sexual acts without their consent.

You always have the right to say ‘no’ to any form of sexual activity, or to withdraw your consent if you change your mind at any time. It makes no difference, legally or morally, if you have consented to sexual activity with someone in the past or if you are in a relationship with that person. You have the right to say no to unwanted sex, and sex without consent is sexual violence.

Child sexual abuse and exploitation

Child sexual abuse includes any sexual act with a child. It can be perpetrated by an adult, young person or older child, and can include penetration, sexual touching above or below the clothes, or making or encouraging a child to watch or participate in sexual acts. Some perpetrators sexually exploit children in order to gain money, drugs or power.

Perpetrators will often groom a child whom they have chosen to abuse or exploit using methods such as bribery,  threats, giving the child drugs or alcohol or making the child believe that they are in a loving relationship, in order to manipulate the child into complying. Some people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or exploitation can feel that they share blame for their abuse because of being groomed in this way. However, compliance is not consent.  UK law recognises that children do not have the ability to give consent to sexual activity, and that the only person responsible for sexual abuse is the perpetrator.