The Law

Please click on a question to find the answers.

> What are my legal rights in relation to rape or sexual assault?
> What are my legal rights in relation to domestic violence/abuse from an intimate partner?
> What are my legal rights in relation to physical violence (not from an intimate partner)?
> What are my legal rights in relation to stalking?
> What are my legal rights in relation to sexual harassment?

> I want to speak to someone about my legal rights.

What are my legal rights in relation to rape or sexual assault?

The principle legislation covering offences of rape sexual assault are contained in the following Acts of Parliament:

  • Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003

This legislation covers offences ranging from common assault through to rape and other serious sexual assaults. This legislation provides the police with the necessary powers to take positive action against the perpetrators of violent / sexual offences. Over the last decade attitudes and behaviours towards victims of this type of crime, many of whom are victims of domestic abuse, have changed dramatically. The introduction of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act in 2004 amended other legislation such as the Family Law Act 1996, Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It sets out different proposals to tackle domestic violence including reforms to civil and criminal law (offences, alternative verdicts, execution of warrants). It also improves the legal and other protection available to victims, witnesses and others affected by this type of crime.

What are my legal rights in relation to domestic violence/abuse from an intimate partner?

The introduction of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act in 2004 amended other legislation such as the Family Law Act 1996, Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It sets out different proposals to tackle domestic violence including reforms to civil and criminal law (offences, alternative verdicts, execution of warrants). It also improves the legal and other protection available to victims, witnesses and others affected by this type of crime.

For more information about domestic violence and criminal law, read the Women’s Aid website criminal law section by clicking here.

Also see:

Rights of Women - A Guide to Domestic Violence Injunctions

National Centre for Domestic Violence

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) offers a free service to help you get a court order to protect yourself if you’re experiencing domestic violence. If you are eligible for legal aid, you will be helped by a qualified solicitor or referred to one near where you live. If you can’t get legal aid, you will have to pay your own costs but you can be helped with paperwork. Depending on where you live, they may be able to support you at court. Phone NCDV on 08009 70 20 70 (24 hours a day every day, Minicom: 18001 08009 70 20 70 or text ‘NCDV’ to 60777, they will call you back.

What are my legal rights in relation to physical violence (not from an intimate partner)?

The principle legislation covering the offence of physical assault is contained in the following Acts of Parliament:

  • Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003

This legislation covers offences ranging from common assault through to offences of murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious sexual assaults. This legislation provides the police with the necessary powers to take positive action against the perpetrators of violent / sexual offences.

Over the last decade attitudes and behaviours towards victims of this type of crime, many of whom are victims of domestic abuse, have changed dramatically. The introduction of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act in 2004 amended other legislation such as the Family Law Act 1996, Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It sets out different proposals to tackle domestic violence including reforms to civil and criminal law (offences, alternative verdicts, execution of warrants). It also improves the legal and other protection available to victims, witnesses and others affected by this type of crime.

What are my legal rights in relation to stalking?

Protection From Harassment Act 1997 – Harassment / Stalking

This legislation covers the offences of stalking and harassment and provides the police with powers of arrest. There are a number of offences contained in the Act including harassment without violence and harassment that puts people in fear of violence. In order to mount a successful prosecution for an offence of harassment certain elements have to be proved, these are:

Harassment without violence

  1. A course of conduct – this has to be on at least two occasions;
  2. Which amounted to harassment;
  3. And the perpetrator knew or ought to have known that it amounted to harassment.

Harassment put in fear of violence

  1. Cause fear of violence to the victim;
  2. Through a course of conduct – this has to be on at least two occasions;
  3. And the perpetrator knew or ought to have known that it would cause fear of violence on each occasion.

Stalking

Stalking is not a legal term used in the context of the criminal justice system. It is a term that is used to describe a particular kind of harassment. This harassment usually amounts to a long term pattern of persistent and repeated following of the victim, communication with them or other intrusions into their privacy. In some cases the conduct might appear innocent if it is taken in isolation, but when it is linked as a course of conduct it may then be sufficient to cause harassment, alarm or distress and amount to an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act.

Also see: Stalking -The Law in England and Wales (Network for Surviving Stalking) by clicking here.

Defining Harassment

Behaviour by a perpetrator as part of a campaign of harassment can include:

  • Frequent, unwanted contact, e.g., appearing at the home or workplace of the victim, telephone calls, text messages, emails or other contact such as via the internet through social networking sites;
  • Driving past the victim’s home or work;
  • Following or watching the victim;
  • Sending letters or unwanted “gifts” to the victim;
  • Damaging the victim’s property;
  • Burglary or robbery of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle;
  • Threats of harm to the victim and/or others associated with them (including sexual violence and threats to kill)
  • Harassment of people associated with the victim (e.g. family members, partner, friends, work colleagues)

The advice from the police is to report all incidents of this nature to your local police station. Many universities are now working in partnership with local police forces and have named officers who work specifically in the university setting; contact details are available via your institution.

The priorities of the police service in responding to offences of harassment are:

  • Protect the lives and preserve the safety of all victims and others who may be at risk as a result of harassment;
  • Investigate all reports of harassment;
  • Facilitate effective action against offenders so that they can be held accountable through the criminal justice system;
  • Adopt a proactive and, where appropriate, multi-agency approach to preventing harassment.

What are my legal rights in relation to sexual harassment?

Protection From Harassment Act 1997 – Harassment / Stalking

This legislation covers the offences of stalking and harassment and provides the police with powers of arrest. There are a number of offences contained in the Act including harassment without violence and harassment that puts people in fear of violence. In order to mount a successful prosecution for an offence of harassment certain elements have to be proved, these are:

Harassment without violence

  1. A course of conduct – this has to be on at least two occasions;
  2. Which amounted to harassment;
  3. And the perpetrator knew or ought to have known that it amounted to harassment.

Harassment put in fear of violence

  1. Cause fear of violence to the victim;
  2. Through a course of conduct – this has to be on at least two occasions;
  3. And the perpetrator knew or ought to have known that it would cause fear of violence on each occasion.

Defining Harassment

Behaviour by a perpetrator as part of a campaign of harassment can include:

  • Frequent, unwanted contact, e.g., appearing at the home or workplace of the victim, telephone calls, text messages, emails or other contact such as via the internet through social networking sites;
  • Driving past the victim’s home or work;
  • Following or watching the victim;
  • Sending letters or unwanted “gifts” to the victim;
  • Damaging the victim’s property;
  • Burglary or robbery of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle;
  • Threats of harm to the victim and/or others associated with them (including sexual violence and threats to kill)
  • Harassment of people associated with the victim (e.g. family members, partner, friends, work colleagues)

The law in relation to sexual harassment is not clear cut. According to the Hidden Marks survey, behaviours by a perpetrator as part of a campaign of sexual harassment can include:

  • Someone making sexual comments that made you feel uncomfortable (including verbally, over the Internet or via text message):
  • Someone wolf whistling, catcalling or making sexual noises at you:
  • Someone asking you questions about your sex or romantic life when it was clearly none of their business:
  • Someone asking you questions about your sexuality when it was clearly none of their business:
  • Someone exposing their sexual organs to you when you did not agree:
  • Someone groping, pinching or smacking your bottom when you did not agree to them doing so:
  • Someone groping, pinching or touching your breasts when you did not agree to them doing so:
  • Someone lifting up your skirt in public without your consent.

The first four categories may be understood as ‘verbal harassment’, and the second four as ‘physical/non-verbal harassment’. (Also see the sexual harassment section of this website.) Such behaviour is unacceptable and you should not have to put up with it.

The advice from the police is to report all incidents of this nature to your local police station. Many universities are now working in partnership with local police forces and have named officers who work specifically in the university setting; contact details are available via your institution.

The priorities of the police service in responding to offences of harassment are:

  • Protect the lives and preserve the safety of all victims and others who may be at risk as a result of harassment;
  • Investigate all reports of harassment;
  • Facilitate effective action against offenders so that they can be held accountable through the criminal justice system;
  • Adopt a proactive and, where appropriate, multi-agency approach to preventing harassment.

I want to speak to someone about my legal rights.

Community Legal Advice

Free confidential legal advice on any issue: Call 0845 345 4 345 (Mon – Fri 9am – 8:00pm, Sat 9am – 12:30pm). Calls are from 4p/min – or get them to call you back.

Rights of Women

For free, confidential, legal advice on domestic violence or harassment contact Rights of Women women lawyers on 020 7251 6577 (020 7490 2562 textphone). Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday 2–4pm and 7–9pm. Also open Friday, 12–2pm.

For free, confidential, legal advice on rape and sexual assault contact Rights of Women women lawyers on 020 7251 8887 (020 7490 2562 textphone). Open Mondays 11am-1pm and Tuesdays 10am-12pm.

See the Women’s Aid website legal advice section for more useful legal advice links by clicking here.

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