Sexual violence describes unwanted sexual activity that occurs by coercion, violence or manipulation. It is an abuse of power and control, and can take many forms, such as:
  • rape (when a person uses their penis to penetrate another person's mouth, vagina or anus without their consent)
  • sexual assault
  • sexual exploitation
  • unwanted touching
  • sexual harassment
  • threatening to, or sharing a person's intimate images without their consent
  • exposure/flashing
  • stealthing (removing or damaging a condom before or during sex without the other person's consent)
Sexual violence is most commonly perpetrated by someone known to an individual, such as a partner, ex-partner, colleague, friend or family member; but it can also be perpetrated by a stranger.

Sexual violence and abuse can occur within marriages, partnerships and transient relationships; all gender identities and sexual orientations can be affected.

What does the law say about say about rape, sexual assault and other sexual offences?

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 highlights statutory offences including rape, sexual assault by penetration, sexual assault, sexual coercion, coercing a person to be present during sexual activity, coercing a person to look at an image of sexual activity, communicating indecently, sexual exposure, voyeurism and administering a substance for a sexual purpose. These offences are committed when a person engages in any such conduct without the other person's consent, and without any reasonable belief that the other person consented.

Rape Crisis Scotland detail the following information in their Rape & Sexual Assault guide:
The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 defines rape as: penetration without consent, of the vagina, anus or mouth, by a penis. The Act also sets out a crime of sexual assault by penetration, which involves penetration of the vagina or anus by any object, without consent. Sexual assault is a broad term which applies to many forms of sexual violence ranging from unwanted touching or kissing to being forced to perform sexual acts. Sexual violence happens irrespective of age, race, religion, gender identity, class, sexuality, whether able bodied or disabled.

There are various other offences that are against the law in Scotland, including:
  • Offences concerning unlawful sexual activity with children under 16
  • Sexual abuse of trust involving children: any sexual activity by someone over 18 with someone under 18 to whom the perpetrator is in a position of trust, for example a carer
  • Sexual abuse of trust involving mentally disordered persons: any sexual activity with someone who suffers from a mental disorder and to whom the perpetrator is in a position of trust
  • Administering a substance (giving someone alcohol or drugs) for sexual purposes
  • Incest: sexual intercourse between people related to one another (as specified by law)
The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 additionally highlights the offence of non-consensual sharing of intimate images. 


Sexual consent is defined in Scotland as 'free agreement'. Where some form of coercion, violence or threat is used, this means there has been no consent given.

Police Scotland provide a detailed description of consent here.

If you'd like to learn more about consent, you can complete the University's 'Consent Matters' e-learning course. Details on how to access this course are located at the bottom of this page.

If you have experienced sexual violence, please read 'it has happened to me or someone I know'

There are two ways you can tell us what happened