Historic Sexual Offences


On the 1 May 2004 the Sexual Offences Act 2003 became law and repealed much of the previous legislation. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 applies to all offences committed on or after that date. Its purpose was to strengthen and update the law on sexual offences, whilst improving the protection of individuals from sexual offenders.


When it is not possible to prove whether the offence occurred before or after 1st May 2004, section 55 Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 applies. In order to rely on section 55, each offence should be charged in the alternative under the old and new regimes. It will be conclusively presumed that the time when the conduct took place was when the old law applied, if the offence attracted a lesser maximum penalty: otherwise it will be presumed that the conduct took place after the implementation of the new law.


It is not possible to prosecute offenders under the new legislation for offences committed before the new act became law, however the Home Office require Police to record crime, for statistical purposes, under the new legislation. Where previously recorded offences under the old legislation are assigned outcomes, forces should return the outcome information as if recorded under the new legislation.



Indecent Assault versus Sexual Assault

Indecent assault is an offence of aggravated assault in English common law. It is characterised as a sex crime and has significant overlap with offences referred to as sexual assault. Indecent assault is an offence (strictly two offences) in England and Wales under sections 14(1) and 15(1) the Sexual Offences Act 1956. It has now been joined by the virtually identical offence of sexual assault under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.


What is rape?

A person commits rape if they intentionally penetrate the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with their penis without consent.


What is sexual assault?

A person commits sexual assault if they intentionally touch another person, the touching is sexual and the person does not consent.


What is a serious sexual assault?

Assault by penetration - a person commits assault by penetration if they intentionally penetrate the vagina or anus of another person with a part of the body or anything else, without their consent.



Section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines consent for the purposes of Sections 1-79. Below are extracts from the legal definition that will help to explain this area of the law:

'A person consents if they agree by choice, and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice'.This definition is relevant to many sections of the Sexual Offences Act including the offence of rape (Section 1).  The section refers to a person's capacity to make a choice. A person might not have sufficient capacity because of his age or because of a mental disorder.

The amount someone has had to drink can also affect a person's ability to consent.

The Sexual offences Act 1956 contains no statutory definition of 'consent'. Juries must be told that the word should be given its ordinary meaning, and that there is a difference between 'consent' and 'submission'. A boy or girl under the age of 16 cannot consent in law, (Archbold 2004, 20-152).