Previous: Consent to harm

Sexual offences are often the subject of scrutiny, with high profiles within the media. Many policy concerns operate in this area of law: the avoidance of ‘victim blaming’; the encouragement of reporting sexual offences; poor conviction rates and moral outrage concerning sexual offences involving children. Parliament’s most recent substantial action came with the enactment of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Consent is a particularly sensitive issue, the starting point of which is to define whether a ‘victim’ consents if they don’t ‘say yes’, or whether they consent by ‘not saying no’.

While scientific in its approach, this page deals with sensitive issues of a sexual nature, so may not be suitable for some readers.


Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 replaces the previous statutory offence of rape. The acts reus of rape is the intentional penile penetration of another’s vagina, anus or mouth without consent. This means that the act of penetration must be a voluntary act; only a man (with a non-artificial penis) can commit the offence of rape as a primary party, and rape can now be committed through oral penetration. The offence also goes some way to gender-neutralise the offence, as males can now also be raped: the old offence of buggery (anal ‘rape’ of a man) has now been repealed and is covered by this section. It should be noted that consent is incorporated as part of the actus reus of consent, so that not all sexual intercourse may be classed as rape...

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