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What Are the Sentencing Guidelines for Sexual Assault?

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Facing a conviction or allegation of sexual assault can be incredibly distressing, especially as sexual assault charges can be severe for specific offences.

Sexual assault covers a wide range of offences, which means that the potential sentences someone could receive following a conviction can vary based on a number of different factors.

In this post, we discuss what sexual assault sentencing guidelines look like, what the minimum and maximum sentences for sexual assault are, as well as the type of actions that could lead to a sexual assault sentence and determine the severity of the penalty.

What is classed as ‘sexual assault’?

Sexual assault is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as an act where one person intentionally touches another person in a sexual manner without their consent. In this instance, ‘touching’ can be done with any part of the body or with an object.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that someone will have committed sexual assault if they:

  • Intentionally touched another person
  • Touched someone inappropriately or sexually
  • Did not receive consent to touch someone
  • Could not have reasonably believed that they received consent (e.g. the other person was asleep or intoxicated)
  • Touched someone with any part of their body or object

What are all examples of sexual assault?

There are a number of actions which could be described as sexual assault, according to the sentencing guidelines put in place by the CPS. Examples of sexual assault could include, but are not limited to:

  • Kissing
  • Attempted rape
  • Touching someone’s genitals or breasts
  • Touching someone’s body in a sexual manner
  • Pressing up against someone for sexual pleasure
  • Pressuring someone to perform a sexual act
  • Manipulating someone’s clothing for sexual pleasure (such as lifting someone’s skirt)

Does rape class as sexual assault?

Rape is treated as a separate offence from sexual assault and, as such, carries more severe penalties.

The offence of rape is set out in section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and is defined as an incident where:

  • Someone intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person
  • The victim does not provide consent
  • The perpetrator does not reasonably believe the victim consents

What is the average sentence for sexual assault?

Sexual assault sentencing guidelines indicate that the sentence someone is likely to receive for sexual assault will depend on the category of the offence and the culpability of the offender. The sentencing range can range from a medium level community order right the way through to seven years imprisonment.

Breaking this down, the offence will fall under one of three categories of harm:

  • Category 1 – An offence which includes:
    • Severe psychological or physical harm
    • Abduction
    • Violence or threats
    • Forced entry into a victim’s home
  • Category 2 – An offence which includes:
    • Touching of naked genitalia or naked breasts
    • Prolonged detention/sustained incident
    • Additional degradation or humiliation
    • A victim being vulnerable
  • Category 3 – Factors in Categories 1 and 2 are not present

Culpability is split into two:

  • Culpability A – This is where:
    • An offender shows significant planning
    • An offender acts with others to commit an offence
    • Alcohol or drugs were used on the victim to facilitate the offence
    • There was an abuse of trust
    • There was previous violence against the victim
    • The offence was committed during the course of a burglary
    • The offence was recorded
    • The offence was commercially exploited or motivated
    • The offence was racially or religiously aggravated
    • The offence was motivated by hostility towards a victim’s sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation)
    • The offence was motivated by hostility towards a victim’s disability (or presumed disability)
  • Culpability B – Factors in Culpability A are not present

A full breakdown of the potential sentences for sexual assault can be found here.

It is incredibly important to note that the sentences for sexual assault of a child under the age of 13 are treated as separate. In all instances, the sentences someone could receive for sexual assault of a child under the age of 13 are more severe than a charge of sexual assault.

More information regarding the sentences someone could potentially receive for sexual assault of a child under the age of 13 can be found here.

What is the maximum sentence for sexual assault?

The maximum sentence for sexual assault may be handed out for an offence which is deemed to fall under Category 1 of harm and Culpability A.

While the starting point for an offence that falls into this bracket is four years’ custody, this can extend to seven years’ custody. This means that the maximum sentence for sexual assault is seven years’ custody.

What is the minimum sentence for sexual assault?

The minimum sentence for sexual assault may be handed out for an offence which is deemed to fall under Category 3 of harm and Culpability B.

The starting point for an offence that falls under this bracket is a high level community order. However, this could be reduced to a medium level community order. This means that the minimum sentence for sexual assault is a medium level community order.

What are the other consequences of being convicted of sexual assault?

There are a range of other consequences to consider if you are convicted of a sexual assault charge. These will include:

Being placed on the Sex Offenders Register

In the UK, you will be placed on the Sexual Offenders Register if you are found guilty of any type of sexual offence against children or adults. As sexual assault falls under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, this means that you will be added to the register following a conviction.

The amount of time you spend on the Sex Offender’s Register will depend on the sentence for sexual assault. For anyone over the age of 18, the following timescales apply:

  • Caution – 2 years
  • Conditional discharge – the length of the conditional discharge
  • Hospital order without restriction order – 7 years
  • 6 months or less imprisonment – 7 years
  • Between 6-30 months imprisonment – 10 years
  • Hospital order subject to a restriction order – Indefinite
  • Imprisonment for more than 30 months – Indefinite
  • Any other type of disposal (such as a Community Order >12 months) – 5 years

These periods are reduced if the individual is under 18 at the time of conviction.

Sexual Harm Prevention Order

You may also be handed a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO). These can implement certain conditions, such as preventing an offender from travelling abroad or being able to access the internet without having computer monitoring software installed.

Ancillary orders

Additional ancillary orders could also be put in place, depending on the nature of the offence and who was involved. For example, you could be subject to restraint orders, reparation orders, confiscation orders and victims surcharge.

Are there aggravating factors for sexual assault?

Once the starting point for a sexual assault sentence has been established, the courts will also consider various factors (aggravating or mitigating) into consideration before they make a final decision regarding the relevant sexual assault charge.

The court will likely take the following aggravating factors into consideration:

  • Previous convictions
  • If the sexual assault took place while the offender was on bail
  • If a vulnerable victim was targeted
  • Blackmail or other threats
  • If ejaculation took place
  • The location and timing of the offence
  • Any use of a weapon
  • Failing to comply with court orders
  • Presence of others (especially children) at the time of the offence
  • Steps taken to prevent the victim from reporting the offence
  • Attempts to dispose of or conceal evidence
  • If the offence was committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • If a victim felt compelled to leave their home following the offence

If any of these factors are found to be present, then it is likely to lead to a more severe penalty being handed out for sexual assault.

Are there mitigating factors for sexual assault?

In contrast to this, there are also a number of mitigating factors that could be taken into consideration, which could reduce the sentence for sexual assault. These could include:

  • The defendant has no prior convictions
  • The defendant shows remorse (either at the time of the offence, during a trial, or both)
  • Age and/or a lack of maturity
  • Mental disorders or learning difficulties
  • The defendant was previously of good character.

It may also be the case that a sentence for sexual assault could be reduced if the defendant has provided assistance during prosecution proceedings. An example of this would be if they have identified any other suspects that are linked to the offence.

Can you go to jail for touching someone?

Technically, yes, but this will ultimately depend on whether ‘touching’ extends to sexual assault. This will boil down to whether the touching was intentional, sexual in nature, was done without consent, and you could not have reasonably believed that someone could provide consent.

Can you go to jail for sexually harassing someone?

Put simply, sexual harassment is not an offence in its own right. The Equality Act 2010 describes harassment as ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating the recipient’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’.

So, this means you cannot go to jail for sexual harassment. However, where sexual harassment crosses the line into sexual assault, a prison sentence is possible.

Should I speak to a solicitor if I’m accused of sexual assault?

Yes, it is imperative that you speak to an expert sexual offence solicitor if you are arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and are interviewed by the police. It is crucial that you understand your rights and what actions may potentially harm your defence.

While some people are under the assumption that speaking to a solicitor will act as an admission of guilt, this is not at all accurate. Regardless of what your circumstances may be, it is essential that you enlist expert representation, as this can ultimately make the difference with regards to avoiding sexual assault charges or reducing sexual assault sentences where conviction is unavoidable.

Our sexual assault defence solicitors have substantial experience and expertise in utilising the various defence strategies that can apply for allegations of serious sexual offences, including sexual assault. As such, we are perfectly positioned to work alongside you to build an effective defence of the allegations from the outset.

Contact our sexual assault defence lawyers today

For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice, immediate representation, or to speak to us confidentially about allegations of sexual assault, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated sexual assault lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

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Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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