Sexual consent and sexual assault

Rape Crisis have two clear definitions for sexual harassment and sexual assault, both of which are forms of sexual violence.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes someone feel upset, scared, offended or humiliated, or is meant to make them feel that way. 

Sexual assault

Sexual assault happens when someone touches another person in a sexual manner without their consent. Or when someone makes another person take part in a sexual activity with them without that person's consent. It includes unwanted kissing and sexual touching. 


Consent – What is it?

  • Sexual consent means that a person willingly agrees to have sex or engage in sexual activity.
  • Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault or rape.
  • Forcing someone to do something against their will is not consent, this includes physically forcing someone or using words to threaten, manipulate or persuade them.
  • To give consent, a person must be able to make their own decisions.
  • If a person is asleep they cannot give consent
  • If a person is incapacitated through alcohol or drugs they cannot give consent.
  • Agreeing to one form of sexual activity like kissing is not consent for all other types of sexual activity.
  • Agreeing to a form a sexual activity one time does not imply consent for future activities.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time. People can and do change their mind.


If you’re still struggling with consent just imagine instead of initiating sex you’re making them a cup of tea. 

Video credit: Thames Valley Police

Consent – what does it look like?

  • Can be verbal – like saying “yes” enthusiastically.
  • It’s important to talk about what your and your partner’s boundaries are. You can say what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.
  • Can be non-verbal such as positive body language; such as nodding or being responsive to your actions in a positive way.
  • You can get consent by asking:
    • Is this OK?
    • Is it OK for me to carry on?
    • Are you enjoying this?
  • If your partner is not responding or is not engaging with you it may mean that they do not want to continue. You should ask if it is OK to continue.
  • If you partner says words like “no”, “stop” or “I don’t like this”, then they are NOT consenting and you should stop. A person who is not consenting may also stay quiet or move away from the other person.
  • If a person says no you should not try to change their mind.
  • It is a common reaction for a victim of sexual assault or sexual violence to feel unable to move or speak. This is known as the flight, fight or freeze response.

Consent is not:

  • Assuming that someone wants to have sex because of their actions like flirting or accepting a drink. It is also not assuming they want to engage in sexual activity because they are wearing a short skirt etc.
  • Removing a condom after agreeing to use one at the beginning when consent was given.
  • Feeling like you have to have sex because you are worried about the other person’s reaction or what will happen if you say no.
  • Someone having sex with you if you have fallen asleep or are unconscious.
  • Assuming that you want to have sex because you have had sex in the past.
  • Being in a relationship or marriage does not mean consent is given.

The Law

The age of consent in England and Wales is 16. This is the legal age at which a person can take part in sexual activity. This applies to everyone, regardless of their sex or gender.

If someone 18 or older has sex with someone that is under 16 it is a crime.

Sexual activity with anyone under 13 is always a crime.

Although the legal age of consent is 16, the law has some extra protections in place to protect young people. It is illegal to:

  • Take a photo or a video of someone under 18 engaging in a sexual activity.
  • Pay for sexual services from someone who is under 18.
  • Have sex with someone under 18 if you are in a position of trust for example, you are their teacher, support worker, social worker or care worker etc.


Can I wear your hat? - A metaphor for sexual consent 

Video credit: RecWell Health Promotion