Rape has not been legalised in the UK

7 July 2022
What was claimed

Rape has been legalised in the UK as offenders can now escape punishment if they apologise to their victims.

Our verdict

Rape remains illegal. A small proportion of sexual offences, often those committed by children, are dealt with outside the criminal justice system when police say it is not in the public interest to prosecute. But in these cases a criminal offence has still been committed.

A widely shared video posted on Facebook claims that rape has effectively become legal in the UK as the police will allow offenders to escape punishment if they agree to apologise for their actions. 

The 25-minute video begins with one of the two presenters claiming that “in the UK we have decided to legalise rape”. He goes on to explain that the police have decided “that rape should be legal provided, of couse, the rapist says sorry.” At another point in the video, the presenter claims the police are “legalising child rape”.

These claims are misleading. Rape remains illegal and in all but handful of cases, often involving children under the age of 16 having sexual relationships with other children or committing other sexual offences, offenders cannot escape punishment solely by agreeing to apologise to their victims. 

What are these claims based on?

The podcast references an article published in the Daily Mirror in April 2022 under the headline: “Victims furious as police forces let off 870 sex offenders after they say sorry”.

The article says that in the past two years, 870 sexual offenders—including five cases of child rape—have been dealt with by “community resolution”, meaning they do not receive any punishment nor a criminal record. 

The video fails to make it clear that community resolutions are not available to all rapists, that they are often issued when offences have been committed by children, and that even when a community resolution is agreed, a criminal offence has still been committed and the person responsible is referred to as an “offender”.

What is a community resolution?

Community resolutions are a form of out-of-court disposal—the name given to a range of options available to the police which enable them to deal with offenders without having to take them to court.

They were originally used mostly for low-level offences, but some forces now use them for more serious crimes, including burglary, sexual assault, violence and arson.

The way they are applied varies a little between police forces, but in general their use will only be considered if the offender has admitted their guilt and expressed remorse, if the victim of the crime agrees that a community resolution is the appropriate solution and where it is deemed to be in the public interest to avoid a court case.  

It is possible for the police to use a community resolution without the consent of the victim, but this usually only occurs in exceptional circumstances and has to be approved by a senior officer and the reasons behind the decision have to be disclosed. This might happen, for example, if the wishes of the victim are seen as unjustified or exaggerated.

When are community resolutions used in sexual offence cases? 

Commander Dr Alison Heydari of the National Police Chiefs’ Council told the Mirror: “Community resolutions and other out of court disposals are used in around one per cent of sexual cases.

“They may be typically applied where schoolchildren share inappropriate images or in cases of sex between underage children. We have made it clear out-of-court disposals are not to be used in serious cases.”

In June 2019, the NPCC’s lead for charging and out of court disposals, Deputy Chief Constable Sara Glen, said that community resolutions were based on officers deciding “whether it is fair and proportionate to give someone a criminal record for their first minor offence – when they’ve admitted responsibility, offered to remedy the crime, are considered unlikely to reoffend…”

She added: “When this occurs each force will scrutinise the decision to ensure that it is appropriate in the circumstances. The majority in this bracket relate to sexual offences between children and young people, which we would classify as peer on peer - where we have juveniles who are in relationships but are not yet at the age of consent."

Under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16 is a criminal offence, even if the other party involved is also under 16 and both agreed to have sex. 

A 16-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old could be considered to be guilty of statutory rape, even if the younger party apparently consented. The use of a community resolution to resolve such a case does not amount to the legalisation of rape as a criminal offence has still been committed. 

In a statement responding to the Daily Mirror article, South Yorkshire Police said: “The community resolution process is sometimes an appropriate outcome for cases involving child perpetrators, people with specific needs or learning difficulties or consensual relationships between teenagers. In many cases, there is a specific desire by the victims and their family for the perpetrator not to be put through the criminal justice system.”

The force added that none of the 78 cases of sexual offences it had dealt with through community resolution since 2020 involved a rape. 

The podcast makes reference to the statement issued by South Yorkshire Police but does not mention the use of community resolutions in underage sex cases. 

What record is kept of community resolutions?

The podcast also implies that when a crime is resolved in this way, no record of the offence is retained. One presenter states: ““No restraining order, no legal mechanism at all. They’re not on any kind of watch list…he could literally just apply to a primary school and be a teacher.” His co-presenter adds that if such an offender were caught for a subsequent crime and taken to court: “It will be his first offence, because his previous offence didn’t give him a criminal record because he said sorry.”

However, while the use of community resolutions does not result in a criminal record and is not recorded on the Police National Computer, details of the incident are retained on police information systems and can be accessed for intelligence purposes. In some cases it may be taken into account should an individual offend in future. 

Image courtesy of Francois Olwage

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.