The age of consent for any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced a new series of laws to protect children under 16 from sexual abuse. However, the law is not intended to prosecute or punish mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.
Specific laws protect children under 13, who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. There is no defence of mistaken belief about the age of the child, as there is in cases involving 13-15 year olds.