Currently, under the British sexual offenses act, there are 4 basic types of sexual assault that can be committed by one adult against another. These are Rape, Assault by Penetration, Sexual Assault, and Causing sexual activity without consent. The first two types can carry life sentences. Sentencing for Sexual Assault is limited to 10 years maximum, and can be as minimal as a fine. Sentencing for Causing sexual activity without consent is complicated.
The description for the crime “rape” is that without consent,
A person (A) commits an offence if he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis
The wording of the definition of rape determines that unlike with lesser sex crimes, only male perpetrators can be convicted of rape. The wording of Assault by Penetration is similar – it only applies if the perpetrator penetrates an orifice of the victim. Both of these laws exclude instances in which a female perpetrator uses force, coercion, or an intoxicant to achieve sexual penetration of any of her orifices with the victim’s penis without his consent.
What, then, would apply in those instances?
(1)A person (A) commits an offence if
(a)he intentionally touches another person (B),
(b)the touching is sexual
Sentencing for sexual assault can range from as minor as a fine to a maximum of 10 years in prison, depending on the type of conviction.
Causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent
(1)A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a)he intentionally causes another person (B) to engage in an activity,
(b)the activity is sexual
So far, this would appear to apply equally to both sexes, right? In terms of potential guilt, it absolutely does. It gets complicated, however, under the sections describing potential penalties for the commission of this crime.
(4)A person guilty of an offence under this section, if the activity caused involved—
(a)penetration of B’s anus or vagina,
(b)penetration of B’s mouth with a person’s penis,
(c)penetration of a person’s anus or vagina with a part of B’s body or by B with anything else, or
(d)penetration of a person’s mouth with B’s penis,
is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life.
Again we see the law specifically singling out male perpetration for a harsh penalty – up to imprisonment for life. What if the crime is committed without using a penis? What if the victim is forced to penetrate, rather than forcibly penetrated?
(5)Unless subsection (4) applies, a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;
(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.
What does this mean?
It means that under UK law, not only is the worst sex crime an adult can perpetrate against another adult limited to avoid application to female perpetrators, all of the lesser crimes that are not limited to protect at least some female perpetrators. Under no UK law is there an option for a judge to impose on a female perpetrator the same penalty for forcing unwanted coitus on a male victim as a male perpetrator would face for doing that to a female victim.
The only time female perpetrators can be treated equally under the law is if they sexually penetrate a victim (an act that would be abnormal for a female perpetrator) or if they’re facing a charge that carries the lesser penalty ranging from a fine or 6 months maximum to a 10 year maximum, depending on the type of conviction. Male victims of the types of sexual attack that are called rape when a man uses his penis to perpetrate them do not have equal recourse under the law for any sexual assault that involves the perpetrator’s genitals when the crime is committed against them by a female perpetrator.
The laws also include reference to section 75, Evidential presumptions about consent and 76, Conclusive presumptions about consent. In addition to the usual stipulations about force, coercion, or incapacitation, nonconsent is presumed if the complainant was asleep at the time of the relevant act, or if the accused lied to the complainant as to the nature or purpose of the relevant act.
Some of those stipulations might be reasons why women’s advocates in the UK do not want the law updated. In particular, it might be problematic for women who might lie about their use of birth control if they believe that getting pregnant will persuade their partner to marry them. It would also make it harder for a woman embarrassed about a mutually drunk sex act to soothe that embarrassment by presuming herself a victim and her drunken partner a perpetrator. Advocates might have to consider limiting the concept of incapacitation by intoxication to when the complainant was unconscious or too intoxicated to stand and walk, and acted upon by a conscious person.
A petition has been posted requesting changes to the law that would give male victims equal recourse by holding female perpetrators equally accountable. The petitioner is asking only that the law change to include male victims of female perpetrators, a request that allows for legislators to determine how best to achieve that goal. If you are from the UK, you can sign the petition here.
Those not from the UK can support the petition by sharing it on social media to help boost its visibility to UK citizens who be interested in signing it.
Latest posts by Hannah Wallen (see all)
- UK Government Doesn’t Think #womensactionsmatter | HBR Talk 127 - April 2, 2020
- #NotYourBoogeyman | HBR Talk 126 - March 26, 2020
- That’s not your call, feminists | HBR Talk 125 - March 19, 2020