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The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is used to define and determine the severity of all sexual offences in the UK. It almost entirely replaced the Sexual Offences Act 1956, expect for four sections on brothels, which make it illegal to run, or help run, a brothel.

Why the need for change?

As society’s attitudes change, some of its laws can start to feel inappropriate and out of date. By getting rid of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, the UK government were able to significantly change how certain sexual offences were defined whilst also relaxing previous laws on homosexuality. They were also able to respond to public opinion and increase the severity of cases involving sexual abuse, child abuse, and sex trafficking and tackle scenarios that had not been covered by the 1956 Act, such as where there were vulnerable adults that were liable to exploitation.

What constitutes sexual abuse?

The Sexual Offences Act provides numerous examples of different types of sexual abuse and re-defined offences like rape and sexual assault. As a general rule, sexual abuse is when a person in a position of power or authority intentionally takes advantage of someone else to engage them in sexual activity. These kinds of relationships can take all sorts of forms, but potential sexual abuse scenarios could involve:

  • An adult and a child
  • A doctor and their patient
  • A teacher and a student
  • A member of staff and a resident at a nursing home
  • An older child and a child

The scope of potential abuse scenarios means that every case is treated differently. As has been made clear in recent high-profile cases, sexual abuse committed decades ago can and does still continue to come to trial. It is possible for sexual abuse committed before 2003 to be punished according to the Sexual Offences Act 1956, if it is believed that that is how justice would best be served.

Sexual abuse cases can be defined by all kinds of actions, from rape as defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, to inappropriate sexual touching, or forcing someone else to watch or perform a sexual act. As a result, the particular details of each case that emerge over the course of a case are of great importance in determining what is of relevance in a sexual abuse case.

What are the punishments?

The severity of punishment in a sexual abuse case is determined on a case by case basis. It all depends on the particular offence that may be alleged, with some offences being viewed much more seriously, for example, if the allegation is one of rape, which is where there has been non-consensual penetration, the court’s will almost inevitably considering prison. However, even within a category of sexual offence, like rape, the seriousness can vary considerably depending on the factors involved and this can become very complicated, for example where there had been confusion as to whether there had been consent given by the victim or where there had been consent but that it had been withdrawn. Other factors like the presence of children, the age of the children, and the position of trust that the accused had over any victims tend to greatly increase the severity of the sentence in any sexual offence.

Ultimately, the punishment for sexual abuse can vary depending on all sorts of factors and expert advice and representation is vital in ensuring the best and most favourable outcome is achieved. Public opinion can very quickly become attached to cases involving sexual abuse, adding more emotion to a case and more pressure on all of those involved.

If you are concerned about a sexual abuse charge, it is best to seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible. The high level of attention that such allegations tend to receive makes it important to have legal support focussed on the right issues and to ease any potential distractions.

Contact us

For more information on legal proceedings surrounding sexual abuse, or to discuss an individual case in complete confidence, please call 0333 202 0972 or make an enquiry.