Indecent assault is an offence of aggravated assault in some common law-based jurisdictions. It is characterised as a sex crime and has significant overlap with offences referred to as sexual assault.
England and Wales
Indecent assault is an offence (strictly two offences) in England and Wales under sections 14(1) and 15(1) the Sexual Offences Act 1956. It has now been joined by the virtually identical offence of sexual assault under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
It is defined as offensive sexual contact with another person, exclusive of rape. It also includes any indecent act involving a person under the age of sixteen, or a person who is a "defective", although the Act states that a person should not be treated as guilty of an indecent assault on a "defective" by reason of that incapacity to consent if that person did not know nor had reason to suspect them of being a "defective".
The meaning of indecency depends upon prevailing views of what is unacceptable behaviour. In 1987 it was stated in the United Kingdom this includes indecent behaviour rather than contact and might include forcing someone to watch pornography or masturbation. This is also applicable to physical attack cases, including but not explicit to unwanted oral sex.
The mens rea and actus reus of indecent assault are essentially as for common law assault and/or battery. However, there is the additional element of 'indecent circumstances'. 'Indecent circumstances' are currently identified by the following:
- An offence is indecent if a 'reasonable person' would believe it indecent, whatever the belief of the accused.
- An offence is not indecent if a 'reasonable person' would believe it not indecent, whatever the belief of the accused.
If the offence cannot be assigned to either preceding category, then it will be indecent if it can be shown that the accused thought it indecent.
In India it is punishable under section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.
In New South Wales the offence of indecent assault is punishable under section 61L of the Crimes Act 1900.
- Black's Law Dictionary, 7th Ed., Garner, 1989, St Paul MN (per earlier eds, 1st Ed. 1891)
- Law Reform Commission Report (1987)