Age of consent

Age of consent

The legal age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 in the UK. This is the same for males, females, transgender, gay or straight.

It is illegal to engage in any form of sexual activity with a person who is under the age of 16. However, where sexual activity is between teenagers (under the age of 16), is mutually agreed (consensual) and where they are both of a similar age, they are unlikely to be prosecuted.

Children aged 12 and under cannot legally give their consent for any form of sexual activity. Rape,sexual assault or encouraging a child to engage in any form of sexual activity carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

If you are under the age of 16 and someone has engaged in any form of inappropriate sexual activity with you, or any sexual activity that you did not want to happen, tell a trusted adult, such as a parent or teacher, or contact the Devon & Cornwall SARC.



A man commits rape if he intentionally penetrates someone’s vagina, anus or mouth with his penis, without that person’s consent or if they are under 13. This is the only sexual offence which can only be committed by a man. Rape is illegal and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

If you have been raped, contact the Devon & Cornwall SARC on 0300 3034626 or fill out a quick self-referral form.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault

Sexual assault includes sexual assault by penetration and sexual touching.

It is an offence for a person to intentionally penetrate another persons  vagina, anus or mouth with any body part or anything else, in a sexual way, without reasonable belief that they agreed to it (consented). Sexual assault by penetration carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Sexual assault also includes sexual touching. This covers all physical contact which is sexual in nature and which is done without reasonable belief that the person agreed to it (consented). This type of sexual assault carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Aggravated sexual offences

Aggravated sexual offences

A sexual offence will be treated as an aggravated offence, and therefore will be punished more severely, if any of the following aggravating factors are present:

  • Abduction or detention;
  • The offender is aware they are suffering from a sexually transmitted infection;
  • More than one offender acted together;
  • Abuse of trust;
  • Offence motivated by prejudice;
  • Sustained attack;
  • Pregnancy or infection results;
  • Offender ejaculated or caused victim to ejaculate;
  • Background of intimidation or coercion;
  • Use of drugs, alcohol or another substance to facilitate the offence;
  • Taking photographs of the victim.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, we can help. Staff at Devon & Cornwall Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) are specially trained to provide support and advice about forensic examination, contraception, sexual health and counselling.

You can also find out more information on the Devon & Cornwall Police website.


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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

How to access our service:

We have now implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Please contact our services to access this triage system. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus please do not attend the clinic. Clear advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus is available at .

Advice from our service:

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception during this pandemic here.

More details on the fitting of LARCs (coils and implants) at our service can be found here

If you need the combined contraceptive pill please try (if you can) to get updated measurements of your height, weight and blood pressure before calling us.

There is also specific advice on coronavirus available for People Living with HIV here, and for pregnant women here

Self-requested Sexual Health screening by post is available for for under 25s only - more info here

For others with testing requirements please contact the service on 0300 303 3989.

Alternative provision:

Please be aware that we may have to cancel, rearrange or shut clinical services in response to changing clinical and staffing pressures created by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - at your local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV postal testing - available to at-risk groups for a small fee -  more info
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info