Sexual offence convictions: what you need to know

Aim of this page

Being arrested by the police on suspicion of committing a sexual offence will, for most people, be an extremely stressful and upsetting experience. You are likely to be concerned that rumours and speculation in a case of this type will quickly and irreparably damage your reputation, and about the impact on you and your family.

This information is designed to raise awareness of the things you might need to know, depending on what stage you’re at: whether it’s an allegation, investigation or you have been convicted.

Introduction

Understandably, you will have lots of questions and concerns and the majority of people that contact our helpline after being arrested will ask, “what’s going to happen?”

There are many misconceptions about convictions for sexual offences and how they work in terms of disclosing to employers and others.

It’s important to know:

  • When your conviction becomes spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and what you’re legally required to disclose to employers if they ask
  • The impact of the sex offenders’ register and any civil order/s on rehabilitation periods

This information aims to cover some of the issues which may arise during the various stages of the criminal justice system and what we believe it’s important to know.

What is a sexual offence?

One of the biggest misconceptions relates to the definition of a sexual offence. Sexual offences cover a wide range of illegal behaviour, including rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, prostitution and some forms of pornography:

  • Sexual assault involves touching a person sexually without their consent, or coercing them to engage in sexual behaviour against their will.
  • Child sexual abuse involves forcing or inciting a person under the age of 18 to take part in sexual activity. This can involve physical contact, including non-penetrative acts such as kissing and touching outside of clothing. It can also involve non-contact activities, such as encouraging children to look at sexual images, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse.
  • It is an offence to take, make, possess or distribute indecent images of children. Images can include photographs or video footage, but also drawings, tracings and digitally created images.
  • It is illegal for children under the age of 18 to create or share sexual images of themselves, and for other children to have in their possession an explicit image of a child. Therefore, two 17 year olds in a relationship can be committing a crime by sharing explicit photographs of themselves with each other.
  • There are numerous offences related to prostitution. It is illegal to persistently solicit in public or offer or pay for sexual services; manage a brothel; or incite another person to become a prostitute for gain.
  • Pornographic images that are deemed to be obscene, for example due to including extreme violence, are illegal. It is an offence to disclose private sexual images of another person without their consent (so-called ‘revenge porn’).

Further examples of sexual offences and how the Crown Prosecution Service deal with them can be found here.

Being arrested for a sexual offence

Whenever an allegation of a sexual offence is reported to the police (or they become aware that a sexual offence may have occurred), it will be taken extremely seriously and thoroughly investigated.

Once a crime has been reported the police may invite you to attend a voluntary interview, which would usually take place at a police station. Alternatively, you may be arrested and taken to a local police station for questioning about an alleged offence. Your photograph, fingerprints and DNA will often be taken at this stage.

Whether or not you are guilty of the offence for which you are being questioned the first thing you need to do is to immediately seek legal advice. The police will ask you whether you’d like a duty solicitor to be called but you can ask them to contact a specific solicitor if you have one. An experienced solicitor will support you throughout the investigation and, should the police decide to charge you, they will be able to prepare for and represent you in court.

At the time of your arrest, the police may decide to remove property which they believe may be of interest to their investigation. This will usually include computers, laptops, telephone etc which you own and/or have access to (for example those belonging to your partner). The police will keep your property until their investigation is completed and you will be advised when it can be returned to you.

The police will usually ask about your occupation and any voluntary activities that you are involved in. If your work or voluntary role involves children and/or vulnerable adults or you’ve been arrested, investigated or charged with a ‘relevant offence’ then the police may decide to inform your employer and/or regulatory or licensing body.

Being investigated and charged with a sexual offence

If, following questioning, the police don’t have enough evidence to charge you but they believe they may be able to obtain this evidence over time, you will be released ‘on bail’. You will be asked to return to the police station on a specified date for further questioning at which time you could be charged, freed or re-bailed.

If the police decide to charge you then, depending on the seriousness of the offence, you will either be freed on ‘conditional bail’ or remanded in custody in prison. Bail conditions could include living at a certain address, surrendering your passport to the police or regularly reporting to a designated police station. Contact between you and any co-defendant or the alleged victim of the crime will usually be restricted.

Telling your employer that you’ve been charged

Depending on your occupation or voluntary role, the police may take the decision to inform your employers of your arrest/charge.

If they don’t, then generally there is no obligation on you to tell your employer about a pending conviction unless you are specifically asked to do so; this may be a condition in your contract of employment. However, there may be reasons why you would need to, for example:

  • The removal of devices by the police might make it difficult for you to work, especially if your phone/laptop are the property of your employer.
  • You’re worried that your employer may become aware of it from a third party (for example the police).

There is nothing in law which states that an employer has to dismiss anyone charged with a criminal offence. If you do disclose to your employer, then they will need to consider the nature of the offence, the nature of your job and the extent to which it involves contact with other employees or members of the public. Where a lack of equipment or bail conditions prevent you from doing your job, an employer might consider redeploying you in another part of the business.

Alternatively, they may decide to suspend you until the police investigation is concluded and, in some cases, they may feel that the only option is to disassociate themselves from you especially if they are worried about any potential damage to the reputation of the company or brand.

At a recent Appeal Tribunal [Governing Body of Tubbenden Primary School v Sylvester] a school argued that the reason for dismissing a teacher, who continued her friendship with another teacher arrested for possessing indecent images of children, was the potential damage to the school’s reputation. The Tribunal accepted that the reason for the dismissal was potentially fair.

Being convicted of a sexual offence

Sentence or disposal

If you are found guilty of a sexual offence, various factors will be taken into consideration when determining the sentence or disposal you will receive. Your solicitor will usually be able to give you an indication of what this is likely to be.

However, it’s important to be aware that in addition to a prison sentence or community order, the court may choose to issue you with an additional order relating specifically to sexual offences, for example a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO). These preventative orders (often referred to as a ‘relevant order’) enable the court to impose prohibitions on those convicted of an offence listed in Schedule 3 or Schedule 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 either in the UK or overseas.

Prohibitions could include:

  • Working with any person under the age of 18 in any capacity.
  • Visiting or residing in any location where a child aged 16 or under is present unless their parent or guardian has knowledge of the offending history.
  • Accessing the internet on a device that does not have approved monitoring software installed.

These orders can potentially have a significant impact on your life, not only 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 1974. If you breach any of the prohibitions set out in the order this could result in a return to prison or a further conviction.

Sex offence notification requirements (the Sex Offenders’ Register)

Individuals convicted of a sexual offence will usually be made subject to notification requirements: the Sex Offenders’ Register (SOR). Whilst on the register you must notify the police within three days if you change your name, address or bank account or plan to travel abroad. You must also notify the police if you start regularly staying at another address and if you begin living with a child. The time you spend on the register will be determined by the sentence or disposal you receive. If you receive a prison sentence of 30 months or more, you will be on the register indefinitely although you can ask for this to be reviewed after 15 years has elapsed. Some individuals convicted of sexual offences may also be required to undergo polygraph examinations.

Since 2001 people on the register have been subject to management through the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements, commonly referred to as ‘MAPPA’, This involves the police, probation service and prisons working together, sometimes with other agencies such as social services, to monitor and manage the risk of harm presented by those convicted of sexual and/or violent offences.

Children’s and adults barred list

If you have been working in ‘regulated activity’ and are cautioned or convicted for a relevant offence the DBS may consider adding you to the children and/or adult barred list. If you are on a barred list you will be breaking the law if you apply for or work in regulated activity with a group that you are barred from working or volunteering with.

Having an unspent conviction

It is often at this point that the reality of having a conviction starts to kick in. Up until now, you will have been concentrating on the police investigation and its outcome, the court hearing and then dealing with a prison sentence or the requirements of any community order. Once these are out of the way, the impact of a criminal record and the changes it brings to your life may become clearer.

Depending on your occupation, returning to your previous career may prove problematic. If you’ve always worked with children or vulnerable adults then returning to this type of work with an unspent conviction may be difficult; employers in this sector can be particularly risk averse. Although the thought of working in a new field can be daunting, it doesn’t have to be; you could think of it as an opportunity to start a new career or even your own business.

Convictions for sexual offences can become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in the same way as any other conviction. The time it takes to become spent will depend on the sentence or disposal you received. Until the rehabilitation period has elapsed, your conviction will be considered unspent, and you will have to disclose it if asked by a potential employer (or when applying for insurance, or to rent a property or take out a mortgage).

Employment

While your conviction is unspent, you do not have the legal protection of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and you will have to disclose your conviction when asked to do so. Since most employers ask at application stage, people with unspent convictions are at immediate risk of discrimination. Many employers carry out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks and an unspent conviction will be disclosed on all levels of check.

In addition to asking you about your criminal record and carrying out DBS checks there are other ways an employer can find out about your conviction:

  • MAPPA can require you to disclose your conviction to a prospective employer even when the employer does not ask.
  • Employers can do internet searches to find out more about a candidate and this will often reveal details of convictions through online news reports.

We know that people with convictions are at greater risk of employment discrimination than those from other marginalised groups. People with convictions are not offered the legal safeguards of the Equality Act 2010, and prejudice towards them is generally considered acceptable. In 2016, a survey commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions found that out of 1,849 employers, 50% would not consider employing ‘offenders and ex-offenders’. Unfortunately it appears that employers are particularly averse to hiring people convicted of sexual offences, believing them to be incapable of change and at high risk of reoffending (despite evidence showing that people convicted of sexual offences tend to be less likely to reoffend than those with other types of convictions).

A campaign launched in 2013 by organisations including Unlock, Business in the Community and others, encouraged employers to ‘ban the box’ from application forms, asking instead about criminal convictions at a later stage of the recruitment process. Over 150 employers have now signed up to ban the box. Unlock’s list of friendly employers has identified a number of employers who, either as a result of their recruitment process or company ethics, have a positive attitude towards people with convictions.

Education

If you’re considering applying for a course at university you will usually be asked to disclose ‘relevant’ unspent convictions. Many sexual offences are considered a ‘relevant’ offence and you may be asked to provide additional information relating to your conviction to the university to assist in their decision making process.

If the university believe you pose an unacceptable risk or you would be unable to meet the particular professional or statutory requirement that exists for some courses you may be refused entry or offered an alternative course.

If you are looking to live on campus, the university/police may raise concerns around the safety and impact on you and other students (for example receiving regular visits from the police may highlight the fact that you have a criminal record). Some universities have addressed this issue by offering students the choice of single sex and self-contained accommodation.

Insurance

While your conviction is unspent you will need to disclose it to an insurer if asked. It can be harder to get insurance if you’ve been convicted of a sexual offence and it is likely to be a lot more expensive. However, if you don’t disclose and the insurer were to find out about your conviction they will usually cancel your policy. If you need to make a claim, an insurer can carry out a basic DBS check to establish whether you had an unspent conviction at the time you took out your policy.

Details of motor insurers and insurance brokers who offer policies to individuals with unspent convictions can be found here.

Having a spent conviction

As stated above sexual offences can become spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) in the same way as any other conviction.

It’s important to note that the length of time it takes for a conviction to become spent can be different to how long you will be subject to the notification requirements. As a result, it is possible for a conviction  to be ‘spent’ under the ROA but you will still be subject to the notification requirements.

Employment

Once your conviction is spent, you don’t need to disclose it for any job covered by the ROA (even if you are still on the register). Until your notification requirements end, there is always a chance that the police will want a potential employer to know that you are on the register, especially if the job involves working with vulnerable groups.

You will now be able to apply for most jobs safe in the knowledge that if an employer were to carry out a basic DBS check nothing would be disclosed. However, if an employer were to undertake an ineligible check (for example a standard or enhanced DBS instead of a basic) then this could result in them becoming aware of a conviction which, legally, they are not entitled to know about. You may find that once they know about it, they decide to withdraw the job offer. It’s important therefore to be sure that an employer is doing the correct level of check. Our A-Z of job roles and their eligibility for basic, standard and enhanced DBS checks sets out the levels of DBS checks which may be undertaken for various jobs and roles.

You now have some protection under the ROA and employers cannot legally refuse you a job on the basis of a spent conviction. However, in our experience many will give another reason as to why your application has been unsuccessful.

Some employers carry out Google searches as a way of informally checking someone’s criminal record. If there are stories on the internet which relate to your conviction, an employer may be able to find details of your spent conviction which they may not legally be entitled to know about. In May 2014, Google (and other search engines) launched a system whereby individuals can request information about them be removed from search engine results. Google state that they are more likely to consider de-listing results relating to relatively minor offences that happened a long time ago rather than results relating to recent convictions for more serious offences. As the online application form is relatively quick and easy to complete, it may be something worth considering.

If you’re applying for a job which is exempt from the ROA and which requires a standard or enhanced check then spent convictions will be disclosed unless they are eligible for filtering. Although the filtering system was introduced to prevent the disclosure of old and minor cautions and convictions on standard and enhanced DBS certificates, in practice very few sexual offences are eligible for filtering.

Education

As universities usually only ask applicants to disclose unspent convictions when applying for courses, a spent conviction will allow you to apply for a lot more courses without having to disclose your conviction. If you’re considering applying for a course which would involve working with children or vulnerable adults and where an enhanced DBS check would be required (for example a nurse or a teacher) then you would need to disclose your conviction.

The ongoing effects of a sexual offence conviction

Travel

Being on the SOR means that you have to notify the police of all foreign travel. You will need to provide the police with the following information at least seven days prior to your departure:

  • The date of departure from the UK
  • The destination country (or, if there is more than one, the first) and the point of arrival in that country
  • The point(s) of arrival in any countries that will be visited in addition to the initial destination country
  • The carrier(s) you intend to use to leave and return to the UK or to any other point(s) of arrival while you are outside the UK
  • Details of accommodation arrangements for the first night outside the UK
  • The date of re-entry to the UK and point of arrival.

Once you have informed the police, your travel arrangements will be risk assessed and any appropriate action taken – this may include sharing the information with other agencies and countries. Where the police believe ‘a person to be a possible threat to public safety’, they may decide to issue a Green Notice through the Interpol Criminal Information System relating to your criminal record.

If a Green Notice has been issued then customs/immigration will be aware of it when your passport is scanned. This can sometimes result in you being taken to one side (or to an office within the airport) and asked further questions about your visit. Immigration will then decide whether to admit you or deny you entry.

Partners and family

Being convicted of a sexual offence can impact on other family members, especially if they work with or have children of their own.

If your partner’s occupation involves working with children and/or vulnerable adults then the police may feel it necessary to inform their employers of your conviction. If they need an enhanced DBS check then the police may choose to disclose your conviction as police intelligence (sometimes referred to as additional information) if they believe it is necessary. Although this rarely happens, in our experience it can cause partners a huge amount of worry and anxiety as they wait to receive their DBS certificate.

If you have children of your own then depending on the offence you were convicted of, there is a chance that there will be some involvement with children’s services, even if the offence was nothing to do with your own child. A risk assessment may be needed before you will be allowed any unsupervised contact, overnight stays or a return to the family home.

For further information visit our page on relationships, children and dealing with social services.

Employers’ attitudes towards hiring people convicted of sexual offences

In 2020 we worked with the Prison Reform Trust to explore employer’s attitudes towards hiring people convicted of sexual offences. The report “Thinking Differently – Employers’ views on hiring people convicted of sexual offences” can be found here.

The report identified several barriers to employment for people with sexual offence convictions. The majority of employers who responded to our survey were concerned about other employees’ reactions (65%), customer safety (62%) and workplace safety (54%).

The survey identified a range of factors that would make employers more willing to consider hiring people with sexual convictions, with half stating they would feel more confident if they had access to management advice (58%), believed that the applicant wouldn’t reoffend (55%) or knew that the person would be under strict probation supervision (49%). Around a third would be reassured by believing that other workers would accept them (39%) and by knowing that the offence was not ‘too serious’ (30%).

Our findings tentatively suggest that providing employers with some basic information might make them less concerned, in some ways, about hiring people with sexual convictions.

Personal experiences

The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine:

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

More information

  1. For practical information – Find more information on sexual offences
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

 

 

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