Consent means that all those involved in the sexual activity agree by choice, and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. This includes ensuring consent to each act of a sexual nature. Sexual activity without consent is abuse and is a crime.

Choice is personal and autonomous, it can’t be made by someone else.
Freedom is the absence of necessity coercion, force, persuasion or constraint.
Capacity is someone’s ability to use and understand information in order to make their own choice and communicate their choice to someone else.

All three of these are needed for someone to be able to truly consent to sexual activity.

See Consent is Everything and Accessing Specialist Support and Advice for further information. 


There are many myths and misconceptions about consent and sexual abuse, which may make it more difficult for victims of sexual violence to access the support that they need.

Saying NO - just because someone hasn’t said ‘no’ it doesn’t mean they have consented. It is often a trauma response for someone to stay silent, find they can’t move and don’t fight back. It is a myth that women play ‘hard to get’ or say ‘no’ when they mean ‘yes’.

Withdrawing consent - someone can agree to sexual activity but later change their mind. They may agree to certain acts but not others and their choice, their decision should be respected.

Drinking or taking drugs – if someone is intoxicated, they may not be able to fully consent. You shouldn’t have sex with someone who is unconscious or lacks capacity to truly understand what they’re consenting to. Giving someone alcohol or drugs without their knowledge or consent (spiking) intending for them to become intoxicated is also illegal.

In a relationship – engaging in sexual activity without your partner’s consent is an offence, a partner must also consent. Rape Crisis: 1 in 2 rapes against women are carried out by a partner or ex-partner.

Unconsciousness – it is not ok to engage in sexual activity with someone who is asleep, unconscious, incapacitated, the medication they are taking makes them drowsy or unwell or they are in and out of consciousness.

Men and non-binary people can also be victims – individuals of any gender and sexuality can be victims of sexual violence and abuse.

Deception – if someone is deceived about the nature of the sexual act then this can mean that they haven’t consented. ‘Stealthing’, non-consensual condom removal during sex is rape.

Children and young people under 18 – it is against the law to engage in sexual activity, sharing sexual images or engaging in sexual contact with someone under 16, or a young person under 18 when in a position of trust or the child is being sexually exploited.

Further information see Rape Crisis - Myths vs Facts 

The Law

Sex or sexual activity with someone who hasn’t consented, is unable to consent, has withdrawn consent, or doesn’t know what they’re consenting to is sexual violence.

Rape and assault by penetration (s1 and s2 Sexual Offences Act 2003) are offences where someone intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another without their consent and carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 

Consent also applies to other forms sexual assault including touching.

Other relevant offences:

Spiking is where someone gives someone a substance, puts it in their drink or administers it in another way without their knowledge or consent. Spiking can also involve causing someone to consume excess alcohol that they weren't aware of, for example adding additional shots of alcohol to their drink.

Intentionally administering a substance to, or causing a substance to be taken by another person knowing that they do not consent, and with the intention of stupefying or overpowering them, so as to enable anyone to engage in a sexual activity involving that person is an offence. See Spiking Prevention and Support for further information.

Voyeurism is observing in person or via equipment engage, recording in a private act without their consent and for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification is an offence.

is where someone takes a picture under a person’s clothing without their permission.

If this takes place on the transport network including London Underground, contact the British Transport Police.

Revenge porn is the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. The images are sometimes accompanied by personal information about the subject, including their full name, address and links to their social media profiles. The offence applies both online and offline and to images which are shared electronically or in a more traditional way so includes the uploading of images on the internet, sharing by text and e-mail, or showing someone a physical or electronic image.

Victim Support - Image-based sexual abuse
Revenge Porn Helpline
Victims of Image Crime

Extreme images possession, publishing or distribution grossly offensive, disgusting or obscene images portraying a range of extreme acts is prohibited.

For more information see also:
What is stalking?
What is a hate crime or incident?
Accessing Specialist Support and Advice for further information.

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