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What to do if…

You’re in trouble with the police because of your harmful sexual behaviour

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If your sexual behaviour means that the police have got involved, you probably have lots of questions:

  • What could happen to me?
  • How long will it take before I find out what the police are going to do?
  • Can anyone help me?

These questions are really common. Below, you’ll find information and advice to help you understand the police process so you know what to expect.

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Getting into trouble with the police can be really scary and confusing. It’s normal to feel anxious, unsure what to expect, or like it’s all too much. It’s really important that you take time to look after yourself and get help if you need it.

See our pages on dealing with regrets about harmful sexual behaviour and managing difficult emotions to find out more about how to manage any difficult feelings you have.

Common questions

What could happen to me?

If you’re in trouble with the police, what happens will depend on why you’re in trouble and what evidence they have.

It might also depend on your age, what exactly has happened, or whether you’ve been in trouble before. 

Did you know…

The criminal age for responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 10 years old? This means that children under 10 can’t be arrested or taken to court. Children over 10 can be arrested, but they’re treated differently from adults because of their age. In Scotland, the criminal age for responsibility is 12 years old.

If the police suspect that you’ve broken the law, they may ask you to come to the police station voluntarily (that means you choose to go, without being arrested). This is so they can ask you some questions about what has happened. 

It’s important that you, and the adults who are supporting you, know your rights. So it’s a good idea to get some legal advice at this stage. There are some links at the bottom of this page to help you get the right advice.

What happens if I’m arrested?

If you’re arrested, the police will usually take you to the police station. They may want to interview you or ask you some questions about what’s happened. 

As well as getting legal advice, you should have an adult there to support you. This could be a parent or a carer, a guardian or another family member. It could also be a professional you can trust, like a social worker. 

If you’ve been arrested for online sexual offences, the police will usually take your electronic devices (your phone, tablet or computer) to look for evidence. They might take the devices of other people you live with and check those too. 

To find out more about what counts as an online offence, look at our sex and the law page.

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Sex and the law

Find out what the law says about sex and what this means for you.

Read more

After you’re arrested, the police will decide whether to release you without charging you for a crime, or to charge you with a crime.

If you’re charged and released on bail, this means that you can leave the police station, but you must return at the date and time the police tell you to. 

You may be given bail conditions – this means there are rules you need to follow while you are on bail. These conditions will depend on what you got into trouble for, but they could include limits on your internet use or on where you can stay.

It’s really important that you follow your bail conditions and make sure you attend the police station when you need to, to avoid getting into more trouble. 

What will happen next?

The police will carry out an investigation to help them decide what should happen next. 

There are lots of different results the police investigation can have, and what happens will depend on your age, what you’ve got into trouble for, and what evidence the police have. 

The police could decide not to take any more action if they:

  • think you haven’t committed a crime
  • don’t have enough evidence
  • don’t think it’s in the public interest to charge you (this means they don’t think it would be helpful enough to society to be worth it)

In these cases, the police end their investigation. But a ‘no further action’ outcome can still show up on your criminal record.

If you are charged, there are lots of different possible outcomes depending on your age and whether you live in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. 

Options include “out-of-court disposals” (where your case is dealt with without you having to go to court). 

Or there are various types of sentence you could be given by a youth court, a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court. Or, in Scotland, you could get an order made by a Children’s Hearing. 

DISCOVER
Who makes the decision on the criminal case depends where you live.

England

England

Scotland

Scotland

Wales

Wales

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

It’s really important that you and your adult supporters talk through the different possibilities with your solicitor. They will be able to tell you what is most likely to happen in your case. 

How long will it take?

A police investigation can take a long time, especially if devices like your phone and your computer are being checked.

Waiting for the police to finish their investigation can make people feel anxious because of the uncertainty of what might happen. So if you’re in this situation, it’s important that you stay busy and keep up your routine if you can. 

Where can I go for help and support?

There are lots of organisations available to give you legal advice and support you through this process.

Just For Kids Law

Legal support for children and young people in the UK

Coram Children’s Legal Centre

Free advice on a wide range of legal issues for children in the UK and worldwide

Scottish Child Law Centre

Free expert legal advice on children’s rights and child law across Scotland

Children’s Law Centre

Protection for the rights of all children living in NI, particularly the most disadvantaged

If you’re a parent or carer, you can read more here about how to support your child through this process.

Are you struggling?

Our advisors can give you support and advice, and you don’t have to say who you are.

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