Sex and the law

Find out about the age of consent and what your rights are if you have been the victim of a sexual crime.

What is age of consent?: 

The age of consent means the age at which a person is legally allowed to decide to have sex.

Having sex with someone who is underage is regarded as a sexual assault and a criminal offence. This is because, under the law, you can't give informed consent when still a child, even if the other person agrees.

  • The age of consent for heterosexual sex is 16 for both boys and girls, and 16 for homosexual sex for both boys and girls. This means that it is unlawful for someone who is under 16 to have sex with someone else who is under 16. Both of the young people involved could be convicted for up to 10 years in prison.
  • If there is sex between two young people, one under 16 and one under 13, then it is the older one that has committed an offence.
  • Any person who has sex with any young person under the age of 13 years could be convicted for life. 
  • Any person who attempts to, or has sex with any young person over the age of 13 and under the age of 16 could be convicted to up to 10 years in prison.
  • If someone over the age of 16 years old has sex with someone under the age of 16 then it counts as statutory rape. Even if the person under 16 consented they are not legally allowed to consent so it still counts as rape.

Being in a position of trust: 

Being in a position of trust is when you are responsible for a young person. This could be a parent or carer, a teacher, youth worker, or any other person with trust or authority.

If someone over the age of 18 is in a position of trust to another person younger (e.g. teacher) it is an offence for the to have sex or engage in sexual activity with the younger person, even if that younger person is over 16.

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What is sexual assault?: 

It is an offence for anyone to touch another person in a sexual way, or threaten to do so, without their consent. This is classed as sexual assault. 

For more information on rape and sexual assault visit the NHS Choices website.

What are my rights?: 

Being the victim of a sexual crime can be very upsetting. If you think you have been the victim of a sexual crime then it is important not to deal with this on your own. Tell a trusted friend or adult. You could also call ChildLine on 0800 1111. They will listen to you and help you decide what to do next.