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Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 now in force

After several years in preparation, the most radical overhaul ever of the law on sexual offences in Scotland has now taken place. On 1st December 2010, the new Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act came into force, bringing with it a number of significant changes to the law on sexual offences in Scotland.

The definition of rape is now wider than was previously the case, reflecting a recognition within the law that men as well as women can be victims of rape. Consent is now defined in statute in Scotland for the very first time. Hopefully this will overcome problems caused by the subjective interpretations to which its previous location in common law inevitably left it open. Under the new law, consent is defined as “free agreement” and this is supported by a non-exhaustive list of circumstances which, if proved, will indicate that consent was not present. People with a limited or no capacity to consent (for example the very young, or those with a mental disorder) are also better protected within the terms of the new Act.

The new law legislates on a number of related offences. These include sexual coercion (forcing others to take part in sexual activities without their consent), voyeurism, sexual exposure, and sending indecent images by email or text. This Act also extends its jurisdiction beyond the UK in cases where offences against children are committed abroad. These can now be prosecuted In Scotland irrespective of where the offence was committed, or of laws which pertain in that country.

Rape Crisis Scotland welcomes the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act and the commitment it demonstrates to improving the prospects of those who have been victims of sexual violence in obtaining justice. It is important that the spirit of the Act is implemented with a rigour that matches this commitment, and that other measures which can support and facilitate these changes, such as effecting changes in public attitudes, will also remain very much in focus.

You can download an Outline Guide to the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 here.

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