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The age of consent is crucial to sexual assault cases. This is because in the UK, children under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity, even if they express a different opinion. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16 has committed a criminal offence. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with someone under the age of 13 has committed statutory rape.
Have you been accused of sexual assault?
If you have been accused of sexual assault, be it with a minor or an adult, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. Our criminal defence solicitors can represent you. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What is the age of consent in the UK?
The age of consent in the UK is 16, as set out under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The age of consent is the same regardless of sexuality or gender. This means that people under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual activity, even if they say otherwise. Engaging in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16 is illegal.
What is sexual activity with a child while in a position of trust?
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is also illegal to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18 if you are in a position of trust. This means that a teacher cannot have sex with a pupil, even if that pupil is 16 or 17 (and therefore above the age of consent).
People considered to be in a position of trust or authority include:
- Teachers, teaching assistants and school staff
- Driving instructors
- Legal guardians
- Staff in a young offender’s institution
- Hospital workers
- Medical professionals
- Care workers
Those charged with sexual activity with a child while in a position of trust often make headline news. One example is the case of Mark Westcott, a teacher who was 48 years old when he began a relationship with a 16-year-old pupil. He was jailed for 16 months and placed on the sex offenders register for 10 years. As this case shows, it does not necessarily matter if the child has reached the age of consent; there is a separate offence of engaging in sexual activity with a child while in a position of trust.
Why does the age of consent matter?
The age of consent matters because unless a minor has reached the age of 16, he/she/they cannot legally agree to engage in sexual activity. It does not matter what the child says. They may express a desire to engage in sexual activity, actively pursue a relationship or vehemently deny any wrongdoing. Regardless, a minor who is under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual activity.
This is important in law, because unless there is consent, the sexual activity amounts to sexual assault. It therefore follows that if someone has sex with a child under the age of 16, that sexual activity was non-consensual (because the minor cannot consent). If it was non-consensual, then it is considered to be sexual assault. Sexual assault covers a wide range of actions, including intercourse, groping and kissing.
The issue of sexual consent is complicated, which is why we have written an entire blog on the topic: What is Sexual Activity Without Consent?
Will under-16’s be prosecuted?
This is a cause for concern for many teenagers who engage in sexual activity with each other. However, the Home Office has said that while engaging in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16 is illegal, it does not intend to prosecute teenagers aged 13 and over where:
- Both mutually agreed to the sexual activity; and
- They are similar in age
Of course, if one party did not agree, then it still amounts to sexual assault and charges may be pursued. This includes situations where there is some form of exploitation or abuse. It is also illegal to:
- Take a photo or video of someone under 18 engaging in sexual activity
- Pay for sexual services from someone under 18
- Take part in sexual activity with someone under 18 if you are in a position of trust
Under the age of 13 – statutory rape
The rules are different for children aged 12 or less. Engaging in sexual activity with a child who is under the age of 13 amounts to statutory rape, no matter what your age. In other words, taking part in any kind of sexual activity with a child under the age of 13 is always a crime, even if you are close in age. This includes rape, assault by penetration, and causing/inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.
Will over 18’s be prosecuted?
Those aged 18 or over who engage in sexual activity with minors under the age of 16 could be prosecuted. As mentioned above, a prosecution may also be sought if the adult was in a position of trust, even if the child was 16 or over.
Did you believe the child was aged 16 or over?
However, there will be grounds for a defence if:
- The defendant believed that the child was over the age of 16; and
- It was reasonable for the defendant to hold this belief
It is up to the jury to decide whether to believe this defence. The priority for the defence team is to show that the defendant took reasonable precautions to determine the individual’s age prior to engaging in sexual activity. It must also have been reasonable for the defendant to hold this belief.
Accused of sexual assault of a minor?
Being accused of sexual assault is always scary, particularly where the complainant was under the age of 16 at the time, or you were considered to be in a position of trust. As your defence lawyers, we can advise you of the best approach in the circumstances.
If you accept the allegations, then it may be better to plead guilty. An early guilty plea ensures that your sentence is discounted. We can also gather good character references and other evidence to present to the sentencing judge. This can help to reduce your sentence further.
If you do not accept the allegations, then we will present a robust defence to the courts. We appreciate that a criminal trial is overwhelming, but we will support you throughout. You might have genuinely believed that the complainant was above the age of consent. You might contest that you were in a position of trust or authority. Or, you might have held a reasonable belief that the minor was consenting. Whatever the circumstances, we can help you.
Contact us now
We offer free police station representation. Remember that everyone is entitled to free police station representation. This is a right you should always exercise. We are also members of the Legal Aid scheme.
Contact us now for a free, confidential discussion with our lawyers.
Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.