From March 2013 to March 2020, the number of sexual offences recorded by police forces in England and Wales almost tripled with 154,113 recorded between April 2019 and March 2020.
Being accused, charged and possibly convicted of a sexual offence will often leave individuals feeling ashamed, victimised and very alone and the stigma behind these types of offences can make it difficult to ask for information, advice and support. However, there are many misconceptions around convictions for sexual offences and it’s important to be clear about how they work in terms of disclosing to employers and others.
We’ve published some new information, designed to raise awareness of the things you might need to know, during the various stages of the criminal justice system.
For practical information – This page is part of our wider information on sexual offences.
Overseas convictions for sexual offences and the UK notification requirements
If you’ve been convicted of a sexual offence abroad then it’s important to know that you could be made subject to notification requirements in England and Wales.
The process is not always straightforward and the police will need to look at the offence that has been committed, especially where it does not exactly mirror an offence listed in UK legislation.
Before you can be made subject to notification requirements and added to the sex offenders register, the chief police officer in the area where you live (or intend to live) will need to make an application to the magistrates’ court.
The application will only be granted if the following three conditions are present:
You have been convicted or cautioned abroad of a relevant** offence
The conviction or caution must have occurred on or after 1 September 1997
** Section 99 of the Sexual Offences Act defines a relevant offence as one which:
Constitutes an offence under the law in force in the country concerned, and
Would constitute an offence listed in Schedule 3 if it had occurred in any part of the UK.
Where your offence is comparable with UK legislation then the application will be difficult to challenge. However, if the offence you were convicted of does not exactly mirror domestic law then you could argue that it did not amount to a relevant offence.
British national Mr C was convicted of a sexual offence in the USA. Two years after his conviction he moved back to the UK and was visited at home by a local police officer. The officer informed him that the police were considering adding him to the sex offenders register and had made an application to the local magistrates court.
Mr C sought legal advice and was told by his solicitor that his conviction in the USA did not amount to possession of indecent images which is what the police application stated. A date was set for a hearing but on receipt of detailed representation from Mr C’s legal team, the police withdrew their application.
Applying to come off the Sex Offenders Register if you’re on it indefinitely
Anyone who has been convicted of a relevant sexual offence and received a prison sentence of 30 months or more will have to notify the police (often referred to as ‘signing the sex offenders’ register) indefinitely.
However, since 2012 individuals who are subject to indefinite notification requirements have the opportunity to apply to the police for a review of this requirement, after a fixed period of time has elapsed. This is currently 15 years for an adult and 8 years for a juvenile.
We were interested in updating this information and, although the previous FOI covered a four-year period, we have concentrated on just one year, namely April 2017 to March 2018. We made an FOI request for this information and have summarised the findings below. The full response can be seen here.
Some key figures
Approximately 60,000 individuals were on the sex offenders’ register as at March 2018
335 people successfully applied to have their indefinite notification revoked in the year April 2017 – March 2018 out of a total number of 588 applications – a 57% success rate.
21 police forces approved over 50% of the applications they received.
Which police forces approved the most/least applications in 2017/18?
Essex and Cumbria both approved 100% of the applications they received.
Dyfed Powys, Northamptonshire, Surrey and Warwickshire Police did not approve any requests.
The charts below give a breakdown of the forces that approved the most/least applications (click on them to enlarge)
What can we take from these figures?
If you are considering applying to have your indefinite notification revoked, then it’s probably interesting to see how the force you’re applying to have dealt with applications in previous years.
Comparing the most recent FOI with the one carried out in 2016 (which covered a four year period), Devon & Cornwall, Norfolk and North Wales Police were in the top 10 of forces that approved the most applications in both periods.
Meanwhile, Humberside, Lancashire and West Yorkshire were in the bottom 10 and approved the fewest applications in both periods.
In 2011-2015 and 2017-2018, Dyfed Powys Police did not approve any applications whilst North Wales Police were one of the forces that had approved the most.
Our advice to anybody with an indefinite notification requirement would be to request a review as soon as you are able to. If you are living in an area where historically very few applications have been approved, then it may be useful to have an informal chat with your PPU officer to get a feel for how your application will be dealt with.
For more information
For practical self-help information – More information is available on our sexual offencessection, and we have specific information on the notification requirements, including indefinite registration.
How do the police deal with offences relating to youth produced sexual imagery (‘sexting’)
‘Sexting’, defined as ‘the taking and sharing of sexual images of children by children’ is seen by many as being pretty harmless. However, in the eyes of the law, it is illegal.
Doing any of the following means that you’ll probably be deemed to be breaking the law:
Take an explicit photograph or video of yourself or a friend
Sharing an explicit image or video of a child, even if it’s shared between children of the same age
Possessing, downloading or storing an explicit image or video of a child, even if the child gave their permission for it to be created.
As the police began dealing with more and more cases like this, then potentially more young people were running the risk of receiving a criminal record which could potentially stay with them forever.
In January 2016, the Home Office launched a new outcome code (Outcome 21) to give the police more discretion when handling crimes such as this. It was believed that allowing the police to record that a crime had been committed without needing to take any formal action, would reduce the criminalisation of many children.
Outcome 21 may be considered the most appropriate resolution in youth produced sexual imagery cases where the making and sharing is considered non-abusive and there is no evidence of exploitation, grooming, profit motive, malicious intent or it being persistent behaviour.
Importantly, offences recorded in this way will not be disclosed on any type of criminal record checkthat is carried out for employment purposes in the future.
The NSPCC and Childlinehave some really useful information and advice for anybody that has sent or been asked to send explicit images or videos.
Discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.
Is it worth applying to have my court order varied or discharged?
Having a court order can have a devastating impact on your life, not just because of the prohibitions that they impose but because as long as they are in force, your conviction cannot be spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
We’ve produced some new information which sets out the impact of having a court order and how you can apply to have it varied or discharged.
If you believe that the conditions on your order are too restrictive, or your order has no end date, then it’s certainly worth considering applying to the court to have it varied or discharged completely.
Many people who have gone through the process have found that a successful outcome has made a significant difference to their quality of life and their ability to secure employment or college/university courses.
Things to consider when disclosing a sexual offence conviction to a new partner
Finding a new partner can often be difficult, but if you have a criminal record (especially if it’s for a sexual offence) finding someone to share your life with can be even more challenging. A criminal record is often a source of embarrassment and deciding when to discuss it to a new partner can cause much anxiety.
We’ve produced some new information which gives tips on disclosing your conviction and some of the consequences which may result from it, especially if you are in a relationship with somebody who has children.
It’s unlikely that you would wish to divulge a lot of personal information to somebody that you may not have a future with. However, it can then become increasingly difficult to discuss as the relationship progresses. A fear of rejection is often the reason for people not disclosing, but if your partner finds out later on (or the police decide to tell her themselves), it can cause massive trust issues between the two of you.
Remember, disclosing your conviction doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship. As a caller to our helpline said recently:
I’m not an idiot. I know this should be a red flag – but I also know that bad things happen to good people and he seems like a good person
Is there anything stopping you applying to come off the Sex Offenders Register if you’ve got an indefinite registration requirement?
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request undertaken by BBC News earlier this year, showed that around 50% of applications allowed under a review process (introduced in 2010 to allow people to apply to be removed from the sex offenders register) were successful. The same FOI request stated that approximately 700 people on the register had successfully applied to be removed from it over the past 4 years.
We thought this was interesting because, although there are many reasons why people are not successful, this was the first time we had seen figures that show the number that had been successful in their application to be removed from the register.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 made anybody sentenced to more than 30 months in prison subject to indefinite notification requirements, without any opportunities for review.
However, in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that under human rights laws, individuals should have the opportunity to prove that they are reformed and changes were made to allow individuals to seek a review after 15 years.
When the review process first came in, the Home Office issued guidance to all police forces which highlighted that before considering removing somebody from the register, officers should conduct a ‘robust review’ and be ‘satisfied that it is not necessary, for the purpose of protecting the public from the risk of sexual harm’ for a sex offender to continue to be on the register. However, one of the more surprising things to come out of the FOI was to show how police forces interpret the guidance very differently. For example, in North Wales 90% of requests to be removed from the register were successful whilst Dyfed-Powys did not approve any requests.
Dyfed-Powys and the City of London Police did not approve any requests
As the charts above show, although there appears to be a certain amount of disparity in how requests are dealt with, our advice to anybody with an indefinite notification requirement would be to request a review as soon as you are able to.
In you application, you will need to demonstrate:
How the circumstances now, compared to those at the time of your offence, have changed meaning that you no longer pose any risk of reoffending.
The way you behave now, compared to your behaviour at the time of your offence means that you no longer need to be subject to the notification requirements to manage any risk you pose.
You may also want to consider including some of the following:
Details of positive relationships you’ve had with both adults and children.
How you fill your time – if you’re employed, how long you’ve been in the same job and what other hobbies and interests you have.
Details of any treatment programmes that you’ve attended which are relevant to your offence.
Your attitude to your offence and how you make sure that you will not offend again.
Any other information that you consider demonstrates that you no longer pose a risk.
If the police determine that your application should be refused, then you will continue to remain subject to indefinite notification requirements. You will be able to seek a further review after a minimum of 8 years has elapsed.
Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO), can be made by a court at the point of sentencing for a sexual or violent crime, or following a complaint made about a person previously convicted of a sexual offence where their behaviour suggests that they may re-offend. Read more about SHPO’s here.
Sexual Risk Orders can be made where a person has carried out an act of a sexual nature as a result of which there is reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary for such an order to be made, even if they have never been convicted. See here for further information.
Sexual offences and the changes to the ROA
Since we got the news about the changes to the ROA coming in on the 10th March 2014, our helpline has had lots of people contacting us wanting to be sure about how it effects them.
One of the common mistakes we’re seeing is that people with convictions for sexual offences think that this alters the time they are subject to the notification requirements.
Unfortunately, the Government made it clear when passing these changes that they didn’t have any plans to alter the notification periods under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
This means that it’s perfectly possible for you to have your conviction regarded as ‘spent’ under the ROA changes, but you still be subject to the notification requirements.