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Sexual violence and the law

Although what the law says is important, it is not the most important thing. The most important thing is how you feel about what you have experienced.

What is consent?

The age of consent in Scotland is 16. This is true whether you are straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. This means that 16 is the age that the law thinks you are old enough to say yes to having sex with someone else. Sex includes any sexual act, including oral sex (stimulating your partner’s genitals with your mouth). Sex does not have to involve a penis.

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 tell us that consent means "free agreement".

The law says there are some situations where you can’t give free agreement, and these are:


Woman looking drunk with bottle in her hand

This means that if someone has sex with you when you are asleep or when you are too drunk / on drugs, then this is rape. This is also true if you have sex with someone because you are scared of what they will do if you don’t, or if they are stopping you from leaving somewhere.

Black woman lying on bed asleep

The law also says that you can withdraw your consent at any time. This means that if you are having sex with someone and you change your mind but they carry on, this is also rape. If you have experienced any of these things, you can get support from the Rosey Project.

What does the law say about rape and sexual assault?

Scottish Law defines rape and sexual assault in the following ways:

Rape: The penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with a penis without consent.

This means that if someone puts their penis in your vagina, anus (bum hole) or mouth without your permission, that is rape.

Sexual assault by penetration: The penetration of the vagina or anus of another person with a part of their body or anything else without consent

This is where someone puts something in your vagina or anus (bum hole) without your permission. This could be their fingers/hand, a dildo (sex toy) or any other object. In Scottish law this is a separate offense to rape, but at the Rosey Project we know that most people who have experienced this describe it as rape.

Sexual assault: Sexually touching another person without their consent

This means that no one is allowed touch you in any way sexually or ask you to touch them when you don’t want to.

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Other laws on sexual violence

Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009

This Act says it is an offence to force a person to look at a sexual image, or sexual written or verbal communication without their consent, where this is done for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, or for the purpose of causing humiliation, alarm or distress to the person at whom it is directed.

This means that no one is allowed to show you a sexual image or say sexual things to you without your permission. This could mean things like sending you a picture of a penis/vagina or people doing sexual things. It could also mean sending you unwanted messages about people doing sexual things.

Hand holding phone

Section 9 of this Act makes "upskirting" an offence (upskirting is the act of taking a photograph of underneath a person’s skirt without their consent, typically with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks).

This means that no one is allowed to take a sexual picture of you by putting a camera up your skirt. This might happen when you are in a public place like on public transport or in a night club. Wherever you are it, it is not OK, and it is against the law.

In Scotland, sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 13 is rape. A child under the age of 13 is deemed to lack the capacity to consent to sexual activity, therefore any form of sexual activity with a child under the age of 13 is an offence.
This means that no one is allowed to have sex with someone under the age of 13. Having sex with someone under the age of 13 is rape, even if they say they agree to it.

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016

This law states it is illegal to disclose or threaten to disclose an intimate photograph or film.

This means that no one is allowed to share an intimate image of you without your permission or say that they are going to do this to make you feel scared. An intimate image could be an image of you in underwear or nude or doing something sexual. Even if you chose to share the image with the person or they have given you money for the image, it is still a crime for them to share it without permission.

Lots of hands all with phones

Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982

It is against the law for anyone to take, have or share an "indecent" image of anyone aged under 18. This means taking, sending and sharing indecent images is illegal under the age of 18.

An exception to this law exists if:


This means that in general, it is against the law to share sexy pictures of anyone under the age of 18, even if the picture is of yourself. However, if you are 16 or 17 and share a picture with your partner and no one else, this OK as long as both of you agree.

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Find out more

For more information, you can visit the Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis website.