Scottish Government
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Sexual offence reforms take effect

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act offers greater protection for victims and strengthens the justice system's efforts to deal with sex crime, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said today as the Act's provisions came into force.

The Sexual Offences Act modernises Scottish justice, by bringing together a complex batch of common law into one statutory framework to help combat offences that take place in today's society.

  • The new legislation:
  • Provides for the first time a statutory definition of consent as 'free agreement' enshrined in the law
  • Replaces the common-law offence of rape with a broader statutory offence (which includes male rape)
  • Introduces new statutory crimes, including targeting coercive sexual conduct such as the sending of sexually offensive emails or texts, and sexual exposure
  • Enables Scottish law enforcement agencies to pursue anyone from Scotland who commits a sex crime under Scots law against someone under-18 abroad regardless of the law in that country
  • Includes 'protective offences' to safeguard those with limited or no capacity to consent due to their young age or a mental disorder

Mr MacAskill said:

"Sexual offences are among the most appalling imaginable, particularly when the victims are among the more vulnerable members of our communities.

"Until now, sexual offences law has been a complex mix of common law and statute. This Act therefore improves public safety and helps the victims of sexual crimes by bringing clarity and increased certainty to prosecutions.

"But this Act is simply one part of a wider package of measures that Government is taking forward to improve public safety and help victims - steps such as taking forward the recommendations from the Crown Office review of the investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assault, and our support for Rape Crisis Scotland's campaign work."

Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland lead for Public Protection, said:

"Sexual crime has a long term devastating affect both physical and psychological and the police in Scotland are committed to investigating and arresting those responsible. We recognise how difficult it can be for victims to come forward and have specialist officers dedicated to investigating this type of crime. Working in partnership ensures that victims receive appropriate support during and subsequent to any such investigation.

"The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act does not affect how we investigate crimes but does afford greater clarity around what constitutes an offence and how those crimes are recorded and subsequently dealt with through the criminal justice process.

"Widening the definition of rape to be non-gender specific and include activity previously reported as other types of sexual crime is welcomed. However, with this should come acknowledgement that a broader definition will result in an increase in police recorded figures for rape.

"This area of policing is a key strategic objective for the Scottish police service and all sexual crime will continue to be fully investigated as a matter of priority."

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on June 10, 2009 and the Act received Royal Assent on July 15, 2009.

Related Information

More information on sexual offences legislation



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