Sexual grooming is the process by which a person with a sexual interest in children builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.

Grooming can be committed by a male or female and a child can be groomed online or face to face, by a stranger or by someone they already know. Sexual grooming is often carefully planned and can take place over weeks, months or years, with the ultimate goal of meeting the child for committing a sexual offence.

Any communication with a child for the purpose of sexually abusing them is legally considered to be grooming and is a classified as an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

No child under the age of 13 can ever consent to sexual activity. This means that if a child under 13 is effectively groomed and a sexual act takes place as a result, this is automatically classified as rape and carries a maximum life sentence.

Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003

Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 specifies that it is an offence to arrange a meeting, or to facilitate a meeting, with a child under the age of 16 with the intent of sexually abusing the child or with the intent of another person sexually abusing them.

If you are found guilty of either offence in the magistrates’ court you face a term of up to six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine. If you are convicted in the crown court, the maximum prison sentence is 14 years.

Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003

Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 specifies that it is a criminal offence to meet a child following the process of grooming.

This offence is committed when a person over the age of 18 has met or communicated with someone on more than one occasion and intentionally meets them, arranges to meet them in any part of the world or travels with the intention of meeting them in any part of the world.

The offence is committed if the victim is under 16 or if the offender does not reasonably believe that the victim is 16 or over. If you are found guilty in the magistrates’ court you face up to six months in prison and/or a fine. If you are convicted in the crown court, the maximum prison sentence is 10 years.

Sexual grooming via communication

In April 2017, sexual communication with a child was made an offence. Groomers who target children through the use of a mobile phone, social media, emails or letters to communicate with them sexually or with the intention of eliciting a sexual response can receive a maximum sentence of two years in prison and face being placed on the sex offenders’ register.

The sex offenders’ register

Anyone convicted of a sexual grooming offence is added to the sex offenders’ register and is required to notify the police of certain details, either for a certain amount of time or for life. A failure to comply with the terms of the register is a serious criminal offence for which the individual will be prosecuted, with the risk of receiving a prison sentence.

What to do if you are accused of sexual grooming in the UK

If you are accused of sexual grooming it is crucial that you are represented by a specialist solicitor who is an expert in this complex and serious area of law. The consequences of being charged with sexual grooming are life changing, with a term of imprisonment highly likely. You also face the prospect of addition to the sex offenders’ register and risk receiving a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO).

It is vital that your future is not left in the hands of a general criminal defence lawyer who may not have the expertise or experience in dealing with these matters. At Lawtons, we have the experience and expertise required to deal with cases of sexual grooming. We will work with you to ensure that you get the best outcome possible in your individual case.