A step too far? How seemingly innocent acts on Love Island can amount to sexual assault

18th June 2019 Business Crime

ITV’s popular hit series ‘Love Island’ has captured the attention of a large proportion of the United Kingdom, with almost 4 million viewers tuning in to watch the long-awaited launch night which was aired on 3 June. Since the show launched in 2015, it has become increasingly popular and although rather concerning, evidence shows that more people apply to go on Love Island than to study at Oxford and Cambridge.

For those who aren’t familiar with Love Island, the contestants on the show spend the best part of their summer living in a luxury villa in Spain with the hope of finding ‘love’, and the winning couple will be in the chance of winning £50,000.

However, despite the ostensibly innocent purpose of the show, some viewers were outraged following Friday’s episode when, newcomer Maura Higgins repeatedly tried kissing Tommy Fury, despite him saying ‘no’ and pulling away. It would seem that Maura regarded this as nothing more than a little bit of ‘innocent flirty banter.’ However, conduct in this regard can, depending on the circumstances and whether the accused can rely on a defence, amount to sexual assault.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual Assault is defined in Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (“the Act„). A person (A) commits an offence if

(a) He intentionally touches another person (B)

(b) The touching is sexual

(c) B does not consent to the touching; and

(d) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

Before Maura attempts to kiss Tommy, she asked him “you don’t want a kiss, just a peck?„ Tommy responded to this by saying “no - you can give me one on the cheek„. Despite this, Maura proceeds to try kissing Tommy even though he repeatedly turns his head to avoid kissing her. If this was the other way round, the consequences most certainly would have been different but that’s another debate to be had.

There are defences available for people charged with sexual assault, for e.g. if the person accused believes that the touching wasn’t sexual or that the complainant consented to the touching. Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps the accused has taken to ascertain whether the complainant consents. If we were instructed in relation to a sexual assault matter, we would look into the circumstances which led to the allegation being made, for e.g. if any aspect of the complainants conduct could be construed as providing consent.

A person found guilty of sexual assault may be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine or both (on summary conviction) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years (on conviction on indictment).

Whether or not Maura’s conduct amounted to sexual assault is clearly a topic that would spark debate.

Our Business Crime and Regulatory team have extensive experience in providing advice and guidance on the offences outlined above. If you require advice please feel free to get in touch with a member of our team on 0345 872 6666.

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Peter Grogan is a Head of Departmentlocated in Manchester in our Business Crime, Regulation & Driving Offences department

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