Sexual violence is any type of nonconsensual sexual contact
- If someone groped you on the bus, if someone pressured you into taking a hook-up further than you wanted to, if someone made you touch them, if someone had sex with you when you didn’t say yes, that’s sexual violence
- Regardless of what their gender is or what your gender is, regardless of whether you know them or not. Regardless of what you were wearing or how much you had to drink. Regardless of anything else.
- Nonconsensual sexual contact is sexual violence.
Consent is as easy as saying “is this okay?”, “Do you like this?”, “yes?”. It isn’t a contract, it isn’t an ordeal, it’s just good communication. Consent is…
- Affirmative (not the absence of a no but the presences of a yes).
- Active (silence is not consent, and mere participation may not be consent).
- Freely given (not something you can be pressured into giving).
- It can be revoked at any time, and is never implied.
- People can’t give consent if they’re unconscious or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
The legal definitions of sexual violence in the UK are as follows:
There are many forms of sexual violence which are criminal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including rape, sexual assault, causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent, and voyeurism.
- Rape and assault by penetration are the two of the most serious offences on the books, each punishable by life imprisonment. Rape involves the non-consensual intentional penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of the victim with the perpetrator’s penis. Assault by penetration covers non-consensual penetration of the victim’s vagina and anus with any other part of the perpetrator’s body (for example, fingers) or with an object. (See sections 1 and 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003).
- Sexual assault covers a wide range of possible conduct, and can be punished with anything from a fine to imprisonment for 10 years. Sexual assault is any non-consensual touching of a victim that is sexual. Touching is sexual, according to English law, if it is by its nature inherently sexual, or if because of the circumstances or the purpose of the person doing the touching it is sexual. This is a very broad definition indeed. Sexual assault can range from stroking or grabbing someone’s body for sexual reasons without consent to nonconsensual masturbation of another person. (See sections 3 and 78 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003).
- Central to these offences is the concept of “consent”. The acts described in the offences are only criminal if they are done to a person who does not consent.
- According to English law: “a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” (See sections 74 to 76 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003).
- It is presumed that a person does not have the freedom to consent if violence is used against them or threatened at the time of or just prior to the sexual act. A person does not have capacity to consent if they are asleep or unconscious.
- A person may lack capacity to consent it they are seriously impaired by drug or alcohol use. English law makes it clear that a person who is intoxicated may not have the capacity to consent to sexual acts, even if they are conscious. This means that while it is possible to consent when intoxicated, a person may sometimes be too drunk to give effective consent. It is impossible to draw a clear line between someone who is drunk but still able to consent, and someone who is too drunk to consent. The only way to avoid a terrible mistake is to err on the side of caution. (See R v Bree  EWCA Crim 804).
- For rape, assault by penetration, and sexual assault the person who carried out the sexual act will not be convicted if they had a “reasonable belief” that the victim consented to the sexual act.
- In determining whether a defendant had a mistaken but reasonable belief in consent, the steps the defendant took to ascertain whether the victim consented will be considered.
- In assessing whether a belief in consent is “reasonable”, what matters is what a reasonable sober person would have believed at the time of the sexual act. It will, therefore, be no excuse that a defendant was too drunk to notice that the victim was not consenting.
If you’ve experienced sexual violence and need someone to talk to, check out our support page. To share your story, go to this page.