Sexual assault is an umbrella term for sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without a person’s explicit consent. It is a crime and it comes in many different forms, from the most blatant to the more subtle. Society can sometimes dismiss some experiences of sexual violence as ‘nothing’ which could lead the victim to doubt what has happened to them. It’s crucial to recognise the signs of each type of sexual violence and what help is available if any of these have happened to you or someone you know.
In all of the examples below, consent is key. Consent happens when everyone has made the choice to be involved in a sexual activity. People need to have the capacity and freedom to make that choice and can withdraw consent at any point during a sexual activity or sexual act. If someone doesn’t say ‘no’ to sexual activity or doesn’t say anything then that is not consent. If someone is under the influence of alcohol, drugs or is unconscious, for example, due to spiking, then they are not able to give consent. Engaging in sexual activity with them would be sexual assault. Consent means explicitly saying ‘yes’.
In England and Wales, this falls under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which states that it is a criminal act when a person intentionally touches another in a sexual manner, without their explicit consent. The corresponding legislations are called the Sexual Offences Act of 2009 in Scotland and the Sexual Offences Order 2008 in Northern Ireland.
It could be a stranger, a work colleague, your husband, wife or partner; if they force you, coerce you, or touch you in a way you haven’t consented to – this is sexual abuse.
Society can sometimes minimise our experiences which could lead to us doubting what we have experienced or dismissing it as ‘nothing.’
If someone forces you physically or emotionally to perform a sex act, for example, oral sex – this is sexual abuse.
Rape is a form of sexual violence and is legally described as the intentional penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with their penis or something other than a penis without explicit consent. For example, without the explicit consent of the other person, oral sex or penetration of the vagina or anus by fingers also count as rape. Stealthing, is the non-consensual removal of a condom before or during intercourse is also considered rape under the law. It is stealthing, if a person has agreed to intercourse with a condom but then the partner lies about putting one on or removes it during sex. Rape can happen through pressure, manipulation, bullying, threats, deception, drugs or alcohol and coercion and the perpretator can be anyone regardless of their gender.
In fact, “in 86% of rape cases against women, the victim or survivor is raped by someone she knows – and in 45% of cases, she is raped by a partner or ex-partner”.
Attempted rape, the act of attempting to rape someone without success receives the same maximum penalty: life imprisonment. Assault with intent to rape is the intention to rape resulting in assault is also a serious offense, however this act doesn’t amount to a charge of attempted rape. Find here a list of myths about rape for more information about this type of sexual assault.
Unwanted and non-consensual sexual touch is a form of sexual assault and is a crime. Examples of inappropriate sexual touch include groping, grabbing, fondling, someone pressuring up against someone for sexual pleasure or touching body parts in a sexual manner or for sexual pleasure. These are not all the possible examples of non-consensual touch and just because something isn’t on this list doesn’t mean it can’t count as sexual assault.
Making someone engage in sexual activity
It is a crime to force someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent. Examples of this include making someone masturbate or touch someone else in a sexual manner for the pleasure of the perpetrator. This is a serious offense and carries the same charges and punishment as rape or assault by penetration.
Someone uses a camera or mobile phone to take pictures or videos underneath a person’s clothes without their knowledge (with or without underwear) – a criminal offence.
Someone shares sexually explicit images or videos of another person without their consent. That includes being shared online or offline, on social media, uploading to the internet for website use, texting, via email or showing someone else an image or photo, physically or electronically. This is also a crime.
A term used for non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse. The partner has consented to intercourse with a condom and does not know it has been removed.
Consuming or being injected with a substance without your permission which results in you not being able to remember what happened or give consent for sexual activities.
Where to find help
All victims and survivors of sexaul assault need to remember that what happened to them is not their fault and they deserve specialist support, should they choose to pursue it. The NHS offers specialist support for rape through their sexaul assault referral centrals (SARCs) – find out more here. Outcry Witness is also here to support all victims and survivors of any form of sexual assault.
If you would like to create an anonymous record of an incident that happened to you, start below.