The legal consequences of offending

You now know what constitutes child sexual abuse and what is illegal in the UK with regards to sexual behaviour involving children. But what are the legal consequences of offending and child sexual abuse? Some individuals may think the only consequence will be involvement with the police and the worst case scenario is going to prison. However there are many more possible consequences for you, your family and the victim that you need to consider.

Involvement with the Criminal Justice System (CJS)

First contact with the authorities

Typically, this is likely to be the police knocking on your door.

Seizing of equipment

During this initial visit, the police may search the property (and any other property you reside in) and gather up all electronic devices (e.g. mobile phones, computers, laptops, iPads, cameras, hard-drives, electronics used for work).

The police will make a note of every device seized and will take them to the police station for further analysis. This process of analysis can take several months. Any devices found with illegal material, or other evidence that an offence has been committed, on will not be returned.

Initial interview and possible arrest

You will be interviewed by the police.

You will be offered a duty solicitor (or if you already have a solicitor you can ask them to come in). You can also be interviewed without a solicitor if this is your wish.

You will be risk assessed for return to community; i.e. the police will decide whether you are to be released under investigation, to be arrested and released under police bail with conditions that you have to adhere to, or that you are arrested and remanded in custody.


If you are bailed, you will be given a future date to return to the police station to answer bail (i.e. to find out what happens next) and it is likely that you will be given bail conditions to adhere to. Common conditions for suspected sexual offenders include no contact with the alleged victim(s), no unsupervised contact with children and no living or sleeping at an address with children. Conditions will vary between individuals; however you MUST comply, as breaking a bail condition is a criminal offence.

You will be allocated to a specific officer; this person will be your ‘investigating officer’ and you will be given their contact details should you need to get in touch.

The bail date can be extended by the police force, for example, if there is a delay in analysing your devices or obtaining other evidence.

It is recommended that you use this time to find a criminal solicitor, preferably with experience of dealing with this type of case, if you decide not to continue using the duty solicitor.

In addition, it is recommended that you use this time to begin to address your offending behaviour, if you haven’t done so prior to your arrest.

Return to the police station

Once all of the seized equipment has been forensically examined you will have to return to the police station. Depending on whether you are under investigation or on bail, and on the evidence found, you will return to the police station under one of the following:

  • invited for voluntary interview
  • arrested
  • return to answer bail

The police will outline any evidence found and do one of the following:

  • not charge you, and release you pending no further action (it may be that they found no evidence or that there was not enough evidence to charge you on)
  • issue a Formal Police Caution (this can be issued at the discretion of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, can be offered and accepted at the police station with no court appearance, and means you serve two years on the Sex Offenders Register
  • charge you, and you will have to go to court


If charged, it is likely that you will be seen in a Magistrates’ Court, and then sent to the Crown Court due to the nature of the offences and the Magistrates’ Court’s inability to give you a specific length of sentence. That said, this does not definitively mean you will receive a custodial sentence.

When sentenced, you will receive either a Community Order, a Suspended Sentence or a Custodial Sentence.

Community Order

This is an order to serve the sentence for the offence in the community, under the supervision of the Probation Service.

It will probably be given with a condition to complete some work to address the offending behaviour.

Community orders tend to be given for at least 2 years, in order to allow the offender to complete a rehabilitation programme within the community during the life of the order (but can be for a maximum of 3 years).

Suspended Sentence

This also allows the offender to serve a sentence in the community, under the supervision of the Probation Service. The difference with a suspended sentence is that a custodial sentence has been given but the judge is allowing this to be deferred and served in the community, in order to give the offender a chance to prove s/he is law abiding and will adhere to the conditions set for him/her.

If the offender fails to comply or commits any further offences, s/he will be required to serve the length of time in custody that was suspended.

Also, like a community order, a suspended sentence can include conditions that the offender must abide by, usually attendance on a rehabilitation programme with regard to sexual offences.

For example, if a judge sentences an offender to 6 months in custody suspended for 2 years, this means that the judge is saying the offence committed was serious enough to warrant 6 months in custody, but because of X, Y or Z (possible mitigation), the offender will be allowed to serve this in the community whilst adhering to the prescribed conditions. If the conditions are not adhered to, the offender will be made to serve the 6 months in custody.

If the offender commits another offence within that 2 year suspension period, s/he will serve not only the sentence passed for the most recent offence, but also the 6 months custody previously given for the original offence.

Custodial sentence

The offender will be taken directly from court to the prison where the sentence will commence.

If an offender has been sentenced to less than 4 years in custody, providing there are no additional concerns and the offender does not cause difficulty whilst in custody, the offender will be released after serving half of their sentence.

If the sentence is for 4 years or more, then the offender will have to serve at least two thirds of the custodial sentence.

Detailed information about sentencing options for different types of sexual offences is available from the Sentencing Council and the latest guidance is downloadable here.

Being on the Sex Offenders’ Register

Since 1997, anyone cautioned or convicted for a sexual offence, is put on the Sex Offender’s Register (SOR). This includes anyone who commits a sexual offence on the internet.

Under the Sexual Offences Act, all sex offenders must register with the police within three days of their conviction, release from prison, or within three days of submitting a guilty plea in court. If you are convicted, you will be required to go to your local police station and sign the register. If you do not register, you will be charged with another criminal offence.

You are required to provide the following information at registration:

  • Full name and any other names used (aliases)
  • The addresses of any properties that you stay in for more than 7 days a year (non-consecutive)
  • Date of birth
  • National insurance number
  • Passport details

In addition, you must:

  • Notify the police of all foreign travel
  • Notify the police where living or staying with a person aged under 18, for 12 hours or more
  • Notify the police of certain credit card and bank account details

You will be required to go the police station on a regular basis in order to sign a document stating that you are still complying with SOR regulations. If you have no fixed abode, you will be required to go to the police station once a week.

Failure to notify the police of any of the above and failure to notify the police of any changes to any of the above is a criminal offence.

How long will I be on the SOR? – This will depend on the offence you have committed and the sentence you have been given. You could receive:


Length of sentence: Length of time on SOR:
Custodial sentence of 30 months of more: Indefinite notification
Custodial sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months: 10 years
Custodial sentence of 6 months or less: 7 years
Caution: 2 years
Any other outcome such as as a community order: 5 years
A conditional discharge: Notification requirements apply for the period of discharge

For further information about the SOR visit

Being subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order

A Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO), previously known as a Sexual Offence Prevention Order (SOPO), is a court order that can be requested by the police or the court when there is a specific concern about an individual. This court order will be requested in order to prevent a person from engaging in a particular activity.

It is very common for a person who is convicted of offences relating to the access of sexual images of children, to be subject of a SHPO. Examples of conditions set by the order include:

Not being allowed to go to places where there are likely to be lots of children e.g. a playground in a park

No access to the internet without installed computer monitoring software

No deleting of internet history

No unsupervised contact with children under the age of 18

The police are required to go to your place of residence without giving you notice, to ensure that you are complying with your conditions.

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