What is a sexual touching offence?

6th October 2020 | Sex Offences Insights & Resources|

Reviewed by Nick Titchener on 6th December 2023

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Stephen Halloran

Managing Partner

In Brief

Sexual touching, known under UK law as sexual assault by touching, is a complex offence which is generally tried in Crown Court due to the often difficult nature of trial proceedings and the potential sentences that could be imposed. It is split into two categories depending upon whether the victim concerned was over or under the age of 13 at the time of the offence, and carries different maximum prison terms accordingly. In all cases, it must be proven that the touching occurred and that it was sexual in nature. Offences of this kind were in the past called indecent assault or sexual assault. The old law still applies for offences that pre-date the Sexual Offences Act 2003.


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If you have been accused of a sexual touching offence (sexual assault by touching) the consequences of a conviction can be extremely severe. It is a serious criminal offence and it is imperative that you contact an experienced legal practitioner to represent your case and as soon as you possibly can. The specialist sexual offence solicitors at Lawtons can not only guide and represent you through the legal process but work to ensure the best possible outcome in your case. 

At this stressful and challenging time, the right legal representation can help you to protect your reputation and your future. At Lawtons we will draw on our years of expertise in this field to closely examine the details of your case and work towards building the most robust defence that we can. Don’t delay in contacting our team of lawyers by calling 0333 577 0522. 

What is a sexual touching offence under UK law?

Sexual touching is a complex offence and the resulting legal process can be difficult to navigate. In order for sexual assault by touching to be proved in court, the following four criteria must be demonstrable:

  • You have touched another person intentionally
  • The touching of that person was sexual in nature
  • The person touched did not consent to being touched by you
  • You did not reasonably believe that the other person consented

Section 79 (8) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that:

    “ Touching includes touching:

(a)    with any part of the body,

(b)    with anything else,

(c)    through anything”

This means that skin-on-skin contact is not necessary to constitute sexual assault by touching; the part of the victim’s body may be fully clothed and the contact will still be the same under the law. 

There are often complex cases in which the defendant genuinely believed that the complainant had consented to sexual touching. In addition, accidental touching is common in day-to-day life, so it must be clear that the contact was intentional. This means that the highest level of care and skill is needed in handling defences for such cases.

Are there different types of sexual touching offences?

Sexual touching offences are handled differently under the UK legal system depending upon whether the victim was under or over the age of 13. The law is complex in this area and the need for case specific specialist legal advice is critical; however, if they are under 13 then the question of consent does not come into it as they are not deemed to be able to provide consent. The sentencing guidelines in this case are also significantly more severe. 

What are the sentencing guidelines for a sexual touching offence?

Sexual touching is an either-way offence, meaning that it can be heard either in Magistrates’ Court or in Crown Court, but the complicated nature of many cases means that they are most commonly heard in Crown Court. Custodial sentences are common for these types of offences. In the event of a guilty verdict the Judge will consider all the circumstances surrounding the case before imposing a sentence, which is currently capped at: 

  • 10 years for offences in which the victim was aged 13 or over
  • 14 years for offences in which the victim was aged under 13

What to do if you are accused of a sexual touching offence

At Lawtons we have the knowledge and expertise to help protect and guide you through the difficult proceedings that may lie ahead. The most positive step that you can take at this stage is to secure the services of a legal team who specialise in sexual offences, and will be at your side for every step. Speak to us today.

What is inappropriate touching?

Inappropriate touching is commonly employed to characterise interactions that involve: 

  1. Unwanted sexual intercourse or other non-consensual sexual activities.
  2. Unwanted touching of intimate regions on another person’s body, like the breasts or buttocks.
  3. Unwanted touching of non-intimate areas on another person’s body, contingent on the circumstances.
  4. Gestures or actions that might be construed as sexual solicitation.
  5. Touching that is deemed inappropriate within a specific relationship, such as sexual contact between an adult and a child.

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