Sex and Consent


To see further resources around sex and consent go to

Morally and legally, it is still rape if someone is:

  • Drinking alcohol – taking advantage of someone when they have had too much to drink, or have taken drugs, is rape. Even if they seem willing they can be too drunk to consent properly.
  • Wearing sexy clothing – just because you find their clothes provocative does not mean they want to have sex with you. Fashion pushes towards ever more revealing styles. Young women in particular may be unaware of the impact of their clothes.
  • Leading you on – kissing, cuddling or any earlier sexual contact does not mean that someone has to have sex with you. Even if they want to at first they can change their mind at any time. They might be feeling scared or might be finding it painful – it is their body and their right to say no whenever.
  • In a relationship with you – people always have the right to choose whether to have sex, even if you are, or have been, in a relationship or are married. This is the most common form of rape and is taken seriously by the police.
  • Pressured into it against their will – if someone says no, but doesn’t fight and scream, this is still rape. People react in different ways to feeling terrified and violated. Some people freeze – this does not mean they have consented.

Society sends mixed messages around sex and consent and large numbers of people blame rape victims, partly because we don’t want to think about how common it is. In 2010, 435,000 people suffered rape or sexual violence with an estimated 90% of rape cases not reported to the authorities and 38% of serious sexual assault victims telling no-one*. We might think of a rapist as a stranger, lurking in the shadows, but the reality is that most rapists are men who are known to their victim. In fact for women suffering serious sexual assault the majority of attacks are by a partner/ex-partner (54%), followed by people they know (34%), strangers (14%) and family members (6%)**.

Impact on victims

Many people who are raped or sexually assaulted have intense feelings of shame and often self-blame, thinking about what they should have done differently e.g. ‘if I hadn’t let him walk me home’. Effects can include: depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, perhaps with flashbacks and nightmares. Some people go on to develop harmful coping strategies, such as using drink and drugs to block out thoughts, or self-harm and even suicide. Such traumatic experiences can have a lifelong impact, especially without support to recover.

Impact on all women

Practically all women fear being raped or assaulted and are told to avoid streets at night, avoid situations where they’re on their own with men and avoid leaving drinks unattended in case they are spiked. This fear has an impact on how women and girls live their lives and is a form of gender inequality, which reinforces victim-blaming attitudes to rape. Rape is always the responsibility of the rapist and sex without clear consent is rape.

If you have experienced rape or sexual abuse there is a dedicated Sexual Abuse Referral Centre (SARC) for South Yorkshire. More information is also available on Sheffield DACTs Sexual Abuse page.

* The Government Response to the Stern Review, 2011: An independent review into how rape complaints are handled by public authorities in England and Wales

** Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2009/10, Kevin Smith (Ed.), Kathryn Coleman, Simon Eder and Philip Hall

More information about rape and consent campaign by Rape Crisis Scotland with clear messages on rape and responsibility : information and support for women and men who have been sexually assaulted as well as a clear discussion about myths, attitudes and the law. government campaign aimed at teenagers challenging attitudes around sex, consent and abuse.