Sexual touching: criteria and penalties

Sexual touching, known as ‘sexual assault by touching’ under UK law, can be a complex offence split into two categories dependent upon whether the victim was over or under the age of 13 at the time of the offence. Offences of this nature were in the past referred to as indecent assault or sexual assault.

In order to prove sexual assault by touching, the following four criteria must apply:-

  1. The touching of another person was intentional
  2. The touching of that person was sexual in nature
  3. The person touched did not consent to being touched
  4. There was no reasonable belief that person consented to being touched    
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The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – an extension of the ‘position of trust’ law

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is due to be formally introduced in Parliament today.  One of the measures is a law expanding the prevention of adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under the age of 18.

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003  (‘SOA’) it is at present illegal for certain professionals, including teachers, social workers and doctors, to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old because they are considered to be in a position of trust in relation to the young person. Sports coaches and religious leaders, for example, have not however previously been included within this category of professionals.  This will change under the new legislation.

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The Sexual Offences (Sports Coaches) Bill – an update

Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003  (‘SOA’) it is illegal for certain professionals, including teachers, to engage in sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old because they are considered to be in a position of trust in relation to the young person. At present, sports coaches are not included within this category of professionals. A proposal to amend the SOA to include coaches is currently moving through the parliamentary process. The Sexual Offences (Sports Coaches) Bill is sponsored by Tracey Crouch MP.

Young people aged 16 or 17 years old are legally able to consent to sexual activity. However, they are also legally still a child and the inclusion of the ‘position of trust’ recognises the inherent imbalance of power that exists between professionals and young people, which could otherwise have the potential to be exploited or affect the young person’s judgment in decisions regarding consent.

Sports coaches are often experts who are held in high esteem within their sport and within the environments in which they coach. Coaches also often have considerable one-to-one contact with and close personal relationships to the children that they coach. In high performance environments, children may be competing for selection for teams or events and the close attention of a coach can be perceived to be instrumental to success. These factors can influence the dynamics of consent and make it more difficult for children to challenge any inappropriate behaviour.

The first reading of this Bill took place in June 2020. The second reading is scheduled to take place in February 2021. This will be the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill. It is difficult to see how the Bill could be opposed given that it will provide an additional safeguard for children participating in sports without placing any addition burdens upon the majority of coaches who are already mindful and who safeguard against such situations arising.


Written by David Milton at BLM david.milton@blmlaw.com