Sexual offences and anonymity for victims

Reviewed February 2021

In the UK victims of sexual offences are given anonymity as soon as they report a sexual offence. That report can be to any third party – a bystander, a friend or colleague. Therefore, it is not necessary for the matter to have been reported to the police for anonymity to apply. Anonymity lasts for the victim’s lifetime, regardless of the outcome of any subsequent trial of the offence.

Anonymity can be lifted if:

  • A victim over the age of 18 gives written consent, without duress
  • The victim dies
  • A judge orders that anonymity be lifted in the interests of justice (rare)
  • If the victim is charged with an offence in relation to the complaint – e.g. perverting the course of justice, or perjury

Defendants in sexual offence cases do not get any anonymity.

Sexual offending covers a wide range of offences and in the UK now includes new offences such as:

  • voyeurism,
  • trafficking for sexual exploitation
  • grooming

You must not publish ‘any matter’ that would identify someone as a victim of a sexual offence. The offence is committed if a detail is included which allows someone who knows the victim to identify them as the being the victim of this offence.

Following a public campaign by a victim, the so-called offence of ‘upskirting’ was created as a new criminal offence called ‘intrusive photgraphy’. This offence was defined as an extension to existing voyeurism offences, and as such is a sexual offence. Complainants in this offence, who had previously had no legal protection, now get the same automatic anonymity as a victim of any other sexual offence.


It is a criminal offence, a sexual offence, in the UK to identify a victim of a sexual offence. Sometimes the prosecuting authorities will charge not only the publication, but also its editor, or other responsible manager. The penalty is usually a fine of less than £5,000, but a conviction for this type of offence can have far-reaching consequences personally, as well as causing understandable distress and suffering to a complainant who is identified without their consent.

Identification on social media

While publications are often careful to anonymise victims, sometimes conversations on the publisher’s website, or on social media may identify a victim.

The publisher would be wise to remove these where possible when they arise. A publisher can remove such material from their own site, or even prevent third party comment in the first instance.

On platforms like Twitter there is nothing a publisher can do to prevent publication. However, if the identification is made on the publisher’s Facebook page, the publisher can remove, or hide such material and they would be well-advised to do so.


Written by David Banks, Media Law Consultant and Trainer. David runs the Law, Ethics and Copyright workshops for NUJ Training Wales.

Written By...

David Banks

David Banks is a journalist with 24 years’ experience and delivers NUJ Training Wales’ course on Media Law and Ethics. He is a media consultant delivering training to a range of national and regional media, NGOs, government, charities, PR companies, universities and the police. He is a trainer who has created and managed successful courses in journalism, media law and production journalism. He was co-author of 18th, 19th and 20th editions of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. He writes regularly on law and the media for The Guardian, The Mirror and The Independent. He is a frequent contributor BBC TV and radio news programmes.


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