What are the types of sexual offences in the UK?

Crimes of a sexual nature can occur at any time between strangers or people who know each other. They can vary from minor offence charges to very serious crimes that could result in convicted perpetrators going to prison for a long time.

Sexual offences typically involve offenders exploiting others for sexual purposes, or engaging in non-consensual sexual activity with another person against their will.

A range of harmful actions are considered sexual crimes under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which the Crown Prosecution Service could charge alleged offenders with.

Here are the primary types of sexual offences in the UK:



The legal definition of the act of rape is a person intentionally penetrating the mouth, anus, or vagina of another person with their penis without the other person’s consent.

This means that someone without a penis cannot legally be charged with rape, and non-consensual penetration using another body part or object would be considered sexual assault by penetration.

Rape is one of the most serious sexual offences in the UK, so allegations of rape are taken very seriously. If a person is charged with committing this offence, the case will go to trial by jury at a Crown Court, with the possibility of a long prison sentence if convicted.


Sexual Assault

If an individual touches another person in a sexual manner without the other person’s consent, whether it’s with a part of their own body or an object, this is considered sexual assault.

Sexual assault is also a very serious offence, but charging an alleged offender with sexual assault can be complicated, as the severity of the offence and the circumstances can affect the charge and potential sentence on conviction at the Magistrate’s Court or Crown Court.

The offence and punishment will be more severe if the defendant used a body part other than their penis, or an object, to sexually penetrate the complainant without their consent.


Child Sexual Abuse

The sexual abuse of a child is one of the most socially reviled crimes that an offender can commit, which is why even false allegations can ruin the lives of anyone accused of this. Convicted offenders can face long custodial sentences for different forms of child sexual abuse.

Child sexual offences involve forcing or inciting a child under the age of 18 years old to engage in sexual activity. This can include non-penetrative sexual activity or penetrative sexual acts.

It’s also a related offence under the Protection of Children Act 1978 and Criminal Justice Act 1988 to make, possess, or distribute indecent images that depict a child in a sexual manner. The accused does not have to be involved in the offences that may be pictured to also be committing a crime.


Other Sex Offences

There are many other specific types of sex offences with varying levels of severity and proportionate sentences. Though this list is not exhaustive, here are some more examples:

  • Exposure (e.g. ‘flashing’ or public masturbation)
  • Voyeurism (observing or recording someone in a sexual way without their knowledge)
  • Prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation
  • Sexual abuse of someone with a mental disorder
  • Intimate image abuse (exposing private sexual images, also known as ‘revenge porn’)
  • Administering a substance with intent (e.g. ‘date rape’ drugs)
  • Trespass with the intent to commit a sexual offence
  • Committing another offence with the intent to commit a sexual offence
  • Child sex offences (committed by offenders under 18 years old)

Historical sexual abuse cases are also becoming more common, as victims come forward to report historic sexual offences years or even decades after they happened.

However, as the law is not retrospective, the CPS will treat the offence in line with the legislation in place at the time it was allegedly committed, not the most current legislation.


Sexual Offence Allegations

Allegations of sexual offences are extremely serious, and if someone is accused of committing a sexual offence in the UK, the police and the CPS will investigate this thoroughly.

If sexual offence allegations have been made against you, it’s essential that you do not try to contact your accuser or spread details of the story. Your best chance of avoiding charges, or avoiding conviction if charged and taken to court, is to take advice from specialist solicitors.

With their knowledge of the law and experience with various sexual offence cases, sexual offence solicitors can liaise with the police and CPS and help you to build a strong legal defence.