Sexual Assault and Rape

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If someone touches you on any private or intimate part of your body when you don’t want them to, this is sexual assault. This could be with their hand, with an object or with their mouth or tongue. And if someone has sex with you, or tries to, when you don’t want them to, this is called rape (or attempted sexual assault/rape).

Sex can include any kind of sexual activity, like touching, but ‘having sex’ or ‘sexual intercourse’ usually means the penis going inside the vagina, mouth or anus (bottom).

Who might sexually assault someone?

Sexual assault can happen in lots in different ways. People often think it would be a stranger who assaults you when you’re alone at night and that there has to be physical force. It might happen like that.

But someone you know could also sexually assault you – for example someone you're in a relationship with or are dating (or an ex), someone you know from school, college or work, a family member, someone you meet at a party... There might not be any physical force involved either - some people who have experienced sexual assault say they froze, or didn’t feel they could stop things happening, or were afraid of what might happen if they tried to.

Sexual assault can happen in many different ways. All that matters is that someone touched you in an intimate place on your body or had sex with you when you didn't want them to.

Sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust

Some people should never touch you sexually, or have sex with you, under any circumstances. For example your parent, your carer or school teacher. This is because they have a responsibility to care for you, or because they’re in a position of power.

Someone in a position of power is someone who can tell you what to do, like a teacher or a police officer for example.

Under the law this applies until you are 18 years of age (see the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 Part 5: Abuse of Position of Trust).

What is consent?

Consent is when you want something to happen and agree to it. It’s important that no one ever does anything sexual to you unless you consent – it’s your body and no one should ever do anything to you that you don’t want.

If someone puts pressure on you by saying things like “Come on, you won’t know if you like it until you try”, uses threats to try to get you to do things by saying things like “You wouldn’t want me to post that picture on Snapchat/Instagram would you?” or tries to manipulate you by saying things like “I thought you were cool/more experienced”, they’re not respecting you and it wouldn’t be consent.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve done something with that person before – it’s about whether you want to do it now, in this moment. And even if you've started and changed your mind, you can stop or decide you don’t like it any more, at any time. 

Find out more about consent. 

At what age can I consent to sex?

It’s important that people are ready before they start having sexual relationships (eg. any kind of sexual activity) with others. This is so you understand enough about sex and how you feel about it, what you like and what you don’t like. And so you’re old enough to understand and respect how the other person feels too.

The law says you can consent to most kinds of sexual activity from age 16.

If you’re aged 12 or under, the law says it’s not possible for you to consent to any kind of sexual activity, and so no one is allowed to have sex with you or touch you in a sexual way. This is to protect you. It would never be your fault if someone did this to you – even if you agreed to it or went along with it.

If you’re aged 13, 14 or 15, the law says that no one aged 16 or above is allowed to have sex with you or touch you in a sexual way, even if you consent.

If both people are aged 13, 14, or 15, the law says they’re not allowed to have sexual intercourse with each other (where the penis goes inside the vagina, mouth or anus) or oral sex (where the mouth touches the vagina, anus or penis.)

Young people aged 13, 14 or 15 can consent to other things like touching and kissing with each other. But it’s really important that there’s no pressure - it’s only consent if you feel ready and freely choose to do something, without being pressured. 

Find out more about consent.

Consent, alcohol and drugs

The law says that you’re not able to give consent if you are incapable because of the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. So no one should start any sexual activity with you if you’re too drunk or influenced by drugs, because you’re not able to make a clear decision about what you want to do. See the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 Part 2: Consent and reasonable belief.

How drunk is too drunk?

This will be different for everyone – it’s not about how many units, because alcohol affects everyone differently. The point is that no one should try to do something with you if they’re not sure that you’re thinking clearly and you’re in control of your decisions. For example – if you don’t seem as in control as you usually are, if you’re speech is a bit slurred, if you’re not walking straight, if you’re feeling dizzy or sick, if you’re not fully conscious… all of these things indicate you’re probably (or definitely in some cases) not be able to make clear decisions about what you want to do, and other people should respect this.

What if we were both drunk?

Even if both people were drinking (or using drugs) sex doesn’t just ‘happen’ - someone has to get things started, or take things further. And if they are affected by alcohol, they are still responsible for their actions if they have sex with someone who can’t consent.

I’m worried people might say I “put myself at risk” if I drank alcohol

It is never your fault or your responsibility if someone has sex with you when you’re not able to consent.

There are lots of good reasons for being careful about alcohol and drugs – like your health and mental wellbeing, and the law. But responsibility for sexual assault always lies with the perpetrator (the person who did it) and never the person they assaulted.

What about consent for young people with learning disabilities?

The law says that to be able to consent to sexual activity, a person with a learning disability needs to:

  • be old enough (for example over 16 for sexual intercourse),
  • understand what sexual activity they might do involves,
  • be able to make decisions about what they want to do and don’t want to do, and
  • be able to communicate their decisions.

See the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 Section 17: Capacity to consent.

A range of easy read guides have been created by Safer Scotland on sexual assault. Rape Crisis Scotland also have an easy read guide called Surviving Sexual Abuse.

Where can I get help and support?

You can find a guide here that has  some more information so you can decide what to do.

Find out where to get support.

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