Inciting Sexual Activity With A Child Offences

Sexual communication with a child is a relatively new offence. Such a law addresses a prior loophole, enabling charges against individuals whose interactions with a child are deemed to be in the early stages of child grooming, even if they haven’t yet progressed to inciting sexual activity. 

Before, these types of communications couldn’t lead to criminal charges until they had progressed further. 

Below, we help you better understand the legal issues around this charge and the avenues of defence. 

What is sexual communication with a child?

In April 2017, Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 added a new offence to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, at section 15A, criminalising sexual communication with a child.

The offence is committed when A person aged 18 or over intentionally communicates with a child under 16, who the adult does not reasonably believe to be 16 or over, if the communication is sexual or if it is intended to encourage the child to make a communication which is sexual.”

More specifically, it refers to any form of communication—whether verbal, written, or digital—that involves sexual content or grooming behaviour towards a minor. This can include explicit messages, requests for sexual images or videos, or attempts to initiate sexual activity. 

The aim of such communication is often to groom the child for sexual abuse or exploitation and can come in the form of a wide range of interactions, from online chats on Facebook and text messages to in-person conversations. 

What constitutes sexual communication with a child?

Sexual communication with a child constitutes a violation under Section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. To be found guilty of this offence, the prosecution must demonstrate that:

  • An individual aged 18 or older (“the adult”);
  • purposefully communicates with an individual under 16 (“the child”);
  • with the aim of achieving sexual gratification.

Furthermore, it must be proven that:

  • the communication is sexual or intends to prompt the child to engage in sexual communication; and,
  • the adult lacks reasonable belief that the child is 16 or older.

What defence is there against sexual communication with a child accusations?

In cases of accusations regarding sexual communication with a child, 

merely engaging in online dialogue with a child does not inherently constitute an offence. The illegality arises from the sexual nature and/or content of the communication. In most cases, it will be immediately apparent whether or not a communication is sexual, or whether the adult is trying to encourage the child to say something sexual.

Another form of defence may be if it can be shown that it was reasonably believed that the person with whom he/she was communicating was over 16. 

This defence hinges on demonstrating that the accused had a genuine and objectively reasonable belief, based on the information available at the time, that the child was at or above the legal age of consent. Factors such as the appearance, behaviour, or representations made by the child may contribute to forming such a belief. 

Additionally, evidence of attempts to verify the child’s age or efforts to ascertain their true age through reliable means can strengthen this defence. 

Finally, it’s becoming more frequent for individuals to band together and utilise online chat platforms to impersonate minors, engaging adults in sexually explicit discussions. Their aim is to uncover or “trap” individuals who may be paedophiles and then report them to authorities.

In these scenarios, the elements of the sexual communication offence with a child may not be established if the individual the adult is communicating with is not actually under 16. Instead, they are likely an adult masquerading as a child. Consequently, the individual is more likely to face charges for attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

What are the sentencing guidelines for sexual communication with a child?

The court typically considers several factors to determine the appropriate sentence.

Initially, the court evaluates the “harm” inflicted by the offence, classifying it into category 1 or 2. Category 1 covers exchanges involving sexual media or causing significant psychological distress to the victim, whereas Category 2 involves less severe cases.

Subsequently, the court assesses the offender’s “culpability”. Factors like threats, group offences, or commercial motives fall under culpability A, while less severe cases fall under culpability B.

Based on the determined categories of harm and culpability, the court will establish the starting point for the sentence, which can range from community orders to imprisonment, depending on the severity and recurrence of the offence. That said, the maximum sentence for sexual communication with a child is 2 years in prison. 

Despite all of this, a conviction for sexual communication with a child automatically subjects the individual to the sex offender registry’s notification requirements.

What should you do if you have been accused of sexual communication with a child?

If you’ve been accused of sexual communication with a child, you must seek legal advice immediately. Getting in touch with a reputable and experienced sexual offence solicitor like Lawtons can provide essential guidance and representation throughout the legal process. In the meantime, you should also refrain from discussing the accusations with anyone other than your legal representatives, and cooperate fully with law enforcement while following their instructions.

Your solicitors will then assess the details of your case, advise you on your rights, and work to build a robust defence strategy tailored to your circumstances. 

Ultimately, it is important to stay calm, act swiftly and seek professional legal support to safeguard your rights and achieve the best possible outcome.

How can Lawton Solicitors help you?

Being arrested for the first time can be a distressing ordeal, especially when the accusation involves a sexual offence. Fortunately, at Lawtons, we have extensive experience in handling allegations of a sexual nature. Our team promises not to judge and strives to work together with you to achieve the best outcome. We aim to explain the process and procedures to you clearly and simply, while also understanding the stress you’re facing.

If you’ve found yourself facing accusations of communication with a child, enquire today and let us help protect your future.

FAQs about Inciting Sexual Activity With A Child

The accusation is false, so surely I don’t need a solicitor?

This is a common misconception. You still need a solicitor to collate all the evidence in your defence and glean all the information that will help you.

Why have the police taken my mobile phone?

Police will have taken your mobile phone to have it examined for evidence. If the police find evidence then it won’t be returned until after the proceedings have concluded.