The law

The age of consent for sex

The legal age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 in the UK. This is the same for males, females, transgender, gay or straight.

It is illegal to engage in any form of sexual activity with a person who is under the age of 16. However, where sexual activity is between teenagers (under the age of 16), is mutually agreed (consensual) and where they are both of a similar age, they are unlikely to be prosecuted.

Children aged 12 and under cannot legally give their consent for any form of sexual activity. Rape, sexual assault or encouraging a child to engage in any form of sexual activity carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

If you are under the age of 16 and someone has engaged in any form of inappropriate sexual activity with you, or any sexual activity that you did not want to happen, tell a trusted adult, such as a parent or teacher, or contact us.


A man commits rape if he intentionally penetrates someone’s vagina, anus or mouth with his penis, without that person’s consent or if they are under 13. This is the only sexual offence which can only be committed by a man. Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

If you have been raped, contact us on 0300 3034626 or fill out a quick self-referral form. We can help.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault includes sexual assault by penetration and sexual touching.

It is an offence for a person to intentionally penetrate another persons  vagina, anus or mouth with any body part or anything else, in a sexual way, without reasonable belief that they agreed to it (consented). Sexual assault by penetration carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Sexual assault also includes sexual touching. This covers all physical contact which is sexual in nature and which is done without reasonable belief that the person agreed to it (consented). This type of sexual assault carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Aggravated sexual offences

A sexual offence will be treated as an aggravated offence, and therefore will be punished more severely, if any of the following aggravating factors are present:

  • Abduction or detention;
  • The offender is aware they are suffering from a sexually transmitted infection;
  • More than one offender acted together;
  • Abuse of trust;
  • Offence motivated by prejudice;
  • Sustained attack;
  • Pregnancy or infection results;
  • Offender ejaculated or caused victim to ejaculate;
  • Background of intimidation or coercion;
  • Use of drugs, alcohol or another substance to facilitate the offence;
  • Taking photographs of the victim.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, we can help. Staff at Devon & Cornwall Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) are specially trained to provide support and advice about forensic examination, contraception, sexual health and counselling.

You can also find out more information on the Devon & Cornwall Police website.