Sexual activity by deception; what is happening in UK law?

It is a scenario that, sadly, most people have heard of.

Someone at a party or in a relationship is pressured into engaging in sexual activities.

For most people who have experienced it, this is a horrendous situation; you are being coerced to take part in an activity that you don’t want to take part in, but, with peer pressure being what it is, you also don’t want to appear to be uncool either, or like a prude. The latter is more common in teenage groups, which is unfortunate, as teenagers are (based on statistics) the group that is the least likely to go to the police.

In 2023 in the UK, legal teams have had enough of looking to prosecute cases where their client has been coerced into engaging in sexual acts via deception and hitting the brick wall that inevitably appears. After all, it is not technically illegal, but now, there is new pressure to make it so.

This article will explore what a potential new law in the area could mean, how it will impact people in the legal system, from a police officer to a sexual offence solicitor, and what it means for the new rules around chatting someone up.

What is sex by deception?

First and foremost, rape by deception has to be explored.

A sexual offence prosecution team would state that rape by deception, also known as rape by fraud or sexual assault by deception, refers to a situation where a person engages in sexual activity with another person by using deceit or false pretences. It occurs when the perpetrator obtains the victim’s consent for sexual activity through fraudulent means, trickery, or deliberate misrepresentation.

The specific details and legal definitions of rape by deception can vary. In some cases, it may involve situations where the perpetrator impersonates someone the victim knows, such as a spouse or romantic partner, or poses as a medical professional or authority figure. Other forms of deception may include lying about one’s HIV status, using substances to incapacitate the victim, or falsely promising marriage or commitment.

Sex by deception is similar; it involves pressuring someone to engage in sexual activity that they are not 100% comfortable with. Or, it may involve withholding information that is important with a consenting partner; there was a case where a man had lied about having a vasectomy to prevent himself from needing to use contraception, thereby increasing the risk of getting the woman he was engaging in sexual intercourse with getting pregnant. Had she known this fact, she stated that she would not have allowed the act to happen.

It’s important to note that consent is a crucial element in all sexual activities under UK law, and if consent is obtained through deception, where the victim would not have consented if they knew the true circumstances, it can be considered a form of sexual assault or rape in some legal frameworks.

What is coercion?

Coercion, in the context of sexual assault cases, refers to the use of force, intimidation, threats, manipulation, or other forms of pressure to compel someone to engage in sexual activity of any kind against their will. It involves exploiting power imbalances, emotional manipulation, or physical force to overcome a person’s resistance or lack of consent.

It’s crucial to understand that consent cannot be given under coercion. If sexual activity occurs as a result of coercion, it is considered non-consensual and can be classified as sexual assault or rape, depending on the specific laws and definitions in the jurisdiction where the incident took place.

Social media

Of course, lawmakers are pushing to take this ruling one step further.

They are insisting that when it comes to earlier engagement, such as pressuring people to send photos of themselves via social media, this needs to be considered, too, as it is a kind of gateway to this kind of behaviour being seen as acceptable.

Indeed, the sending of nudes via coercion is something that is seen as commonplace and can send the message that placing this kind of pressure is OK, which it is not.

There is a positive note in this realm; the evidence is more concrete. For instance, if person A is pressuring person B to send illicit images of themselves, then there will be a text-based trail that can be used to highlight it. In the initial scenario, where person A was pressuring person B into engaging in sex without divulging the entire truth about themselves, it may become a classic ‘my word against theirs’ situation.