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What is sexual consent? Facts about Rape and Sexual Assault

In UK law, the age of consent is 16 – when someone is deemed sexually responsible. This applies regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender. We have answered the most important questions and put together some facts about sexual consent, rape and sexual assault.

What does consent mean in the eyes of the law?

By law, consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity and without consent the act is considered to be sexual assault or rape, both crimes which carry large custodial sentences for offenders under UK law. uses the acronym FRIES to help define consent;

  • Freely given
  • Reversible
  • Informed
  • Enthusiastic
  • Specific

Consent must be clearly and explicitly agreed prior to every sexual encounter, every time. Regardless of whether you’ve been with a partner for years, you’re allowed to say no at any time and your partner must respect this decision. Explicit consent is required and should never be implied or assumed.

What is not considered consent?

Just as important as knowing what consent is, it’s also important to clearly understand what is not considered consent. The below is a list of acts that are not in any way considered consent in sexual activity;

  • Silence
  • Being married
  • Having consented before
  • Being drunk

It is the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to get consent and it should be explicitly given at every stage. A clear affirmative freely-given agreement is consent.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is deemed to be any type of sexual activity where a party has not obtained prior consent from the other. Sexual assault can include but is not limited to; sexual contact with someone who cannot consent for example someone under the age of 16 or has an intellectual disability and sexual contact with someone who is passed out or unable to respond such as when someone is sleeping. Moreover anyone can be a victim of sexual assault regardless of their position, gender or sexual orientation.

What is rape?

In UK law, rape is deemed to have been committed if a male intentionally penetrates another women or man with his penis.

Can men be sexually assaulted or raped?

In the eyes of the legal system in England, a man can only be raped by another man. Women cannot commit rape however can be charged with other offences such as sexual assault or sexual coercion if the male wasn’t in a position to freely consent. This includes if the party was sleeping and/or passed out.

The differing laws across the UK

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 in England and Wales deems consent to something as if a person ‘agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice’.

Northern Ireland defines consent as a person having the capacity to make a choice.

Scotland: ‘free agreement’. An offence will have taken place if the victim did not consent, or the accused had no reasonable belief that they consented.

Laws across each country allow for a number of circumstances that may lead a person's capacity to freely consent such as consciousness and intellectual ability.

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