What is sexual assault? 
Sexual or indecent assault is any physical, psychological and emotional violation in the form of a sexual act, inflicted on someone without their consent (as defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003).

Sexual assault happens when someone touches another person in a sexual manner – or makes that person take part in sexual activity with them – without consent.

How sexual assault is defined in law

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that someone commits sexual assault if all of the following happens:
  • They intentionally touch another person.
  • The touching is sexual.
  • The other person does not consent to the touching.
  • They do not reasonably believe that the other person consents.
  • The touching can be with any part of the body or with anything else.
It could include:
  • Kissing.
  • Attempted rape.
  • Touching someone’s breasts or genitals – including through clothing.
  • Touching any other part of the body for sexual pleasure or in a sexual manner – for example, stroking someone’s thigh or rubbing their back.
  • Pressing up against another person for sexual pleasure.
  • Pressuring, manipulating or scaring someone into performing a sexual act on the perpetrator.
  • Touching someone’s clothing if done for sexual pleasure or in a sexual manner – for example, lifting up someone’s skirt.

Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent

In English and Welsh law, it is also a crime to intentionally ‘cause’ another person to engage in sexual activity without their consent.

This could include:
  • Making someone masturbate or touch themselves sexually.
  • Making someone sexually touch or take part in sexual activity with another person – with or without that other person’s consent.
  • Making someone be sexually touched by another person or having another person carry out sexual activity with them – whether the other person is consenting or not.
The tactics a perpetrator could use to ‘cause’ someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent include physical force, manipulation and threats.

Related types of sexual violence

There are other forms of sexual violence that also involve the non-consensual touching of another person in a sexual manner. These include:
  • rape
  • assault by penetration (where someone penetrates another person’s vagina or anus with an object or a part of the body that’s not a penis, without their consent)
  • forms of child sexual abuse that involve contact

Does sexual assault have to involve force?

It’s a really common myth about sexual assault, rape and other kinds of sexual violence and abuse that they have to involve physical force or leave the person with visible injuries. But that isn’t true.

There are many other ‘tactics’ that someone might use to sexually assault someone. For example:
  • pressure
  • manipulation
  • bullying
  • intimidation
  • threats
  • deception
  • drugs or alcohol
BUT, none of these has to have happened for it to still be sexual assault.

Many people find themselves unable to speak or move when faced with a scary, shocking or dangerous situation. If that happened, it does not mean the person gave their consent.

And if there’s no consent then it is always sexual assault.

Who commits sexual assault?

Sexual assault can be committed by a stranger or someone that the victim or survivor knows.

This could be:
  • a partner
  • an ex-partner
  • someone they were dating
  • someone they used to date
  • an acquaintance (someone they only know a little bit)
  • a friend
  • a colleague
  • a family member
It can be carried out by a person of any gender against another person of any gender.

(information taken from https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/types-of-sexual-violence/what-is-sexual-assault/)

There are two ways you can tell us what happened