Last updated: 25.05.23

Bedford LSCB's Sexual Abuse Jargon Busting Tool

There are a huge number of different terms used to discuss types of abuse, the procedures involved in stopping abuse, and the legal consequences of abusive behaviour. When you’re working as a safeguarding professional or just have a safeguarding responsibility, it can be tough to keep up with all the terminology used.

Central Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board has come up with an aide memoir and information only to assist you in understanding the terminology and offences committed when dealing with cases of sexual abuse. In this article, we share the most important terms from this index and share a link to download the entire document for future reference.

Sexual Abuse Jargon Buster

Absolute Discharge: The court takes no further action against an offender, but the offender’s discharge will appear on his or her criminal record.

Acquittal: The discharge of a defendant following a verdict or direction of not guilty.

Age of Criminal Responsibility: For a perpetrator to fully understand what they are doing and that it is wrong they must be above a certain age; the age of criminal responsibility. It is virtually impossible for children below a certain age to fully understand that their actions are wrong and the consequences of such actions.

The current age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10. Children under the age of 10 who commit criminal acts cannot be charged with committing those acts as the law sees them as incapable of committing those acts.

AssetPlus: AssetPlus is a structured assessment tool to be used by Youth Offending Services in England and Wales on all young offenders who come into contact with the criminal justice system. It aims to look at the young person’s offence or offences and identify a multitude of factors or circumstances which may have contributed to such behaviour. 

Bail: After the police arrest someone they may release them from the police station if the person signs a document undertaking (promising) to come to court on the date police have given them. They have to agree to certain conditions before they are released. For instance, they must promise not to commit any more crimes while on bail or cause alarm or distress to witnesses.

Caution: There are two different types of caution; simple and conditional.

  • Simple Caution – A non-statutory warning given to adults (18+) by the police, following the admission of guilt, as an alternative to prosecution. Though not a conviction, it forms part of a person’s criminal record.
  • Conditional Caution – A warning under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (with reparative and/or rehabilitative conditions attached), given by the police after a CPS decision to issue and following an admission of guilt, to adults (18+) as an alternative to prosecution, which though not a conviction forms part of a person’s criminal record. 

Child Abuse Images: The Police and legal framework categorises photographs of indecent images of children from 1 to 5 as below. All these are illegal.

  • Category 1 – Images depicting erotic posing with no sexual activity
  • Category 2 – Sexual activity between children, or solo masturbation by a child
  • Category 3 – Non-penetrative sexual activity between adults and children
  • Category 4 – Penetrative sexual activity between children and adults
  • Category 5 – Sadism or bestiality involving children

Child Sex Abuse: Child sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse

Child Sex Offender Scheme: The scheme allows members of the public – parents, carers, guardians or interested third parties – to ask the police to tell them about a person’s record of child sex offences if they are concerned about that person’s access to a child.

Complaint: A statement accusing someone of breaking the law.

Concurrent Sentence: A direction by a Court that several sentences of imprisonment or community penalty should run at the same time

Conditional Discharge: A discharge of a convicted defendant without sentence on the condition that they do not re-offend within a specified period

COPINE Scale – Images of children (Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe): The Courts have received the following guidelines of image levels, which relate to the severity of the sentence to be imposed.

  • Level 1- Images depicting nudity or erotic posing with no sexual activity
    • 1.1 Indicative (non-erotic / non-sexualised pictures) – Note: the description of level 1.1 is only included here for information and to demonstrate the full range of images considered).
    • 1.2 Nudist (naked or semi-naked in legitimate settings/sources)
    • 1.3 Erotica (surreptitious photographs showing underwear/nakedness
    • 1.4 Posing (deliberate posing suggesting sexual content)
    • 1.5 Erotic Posing (deliberate sexual or provocative posing)
    • 1.6 Explicit Erotic Posing (emphasis on genital areas
  • Level 2 – Sexual activity between children or masturbation by a child 
  • Level 3 – Non-penetrative sexual activity between adults(s) & child/children
  • Level 4 – Penetrative sexual activity between child/children & adults(s)
  • Level 5 – Sadism or bestiality

These levels are used to assist sentencing.

Crime/Offence: These two words have the same meaning. A crime or an offence is an act, attempted act or omission which is prohibited by the law and for which a punishment may be imposed.

Dangerousness: Defined in the English Oxford Dictionary as ‘likely to cause harm or problems’ or ‘liability or exposure to harm, risk or peril’. The term ‘dangerous offenders’ is used in Chapter 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to identify those offenders who may qualify for special sentences for Public Protection.

Discharge: The offender is found guilty of the offence, and the conviction appears on their criminal record.

Evidence: What a witness says in court. Evidence can also be things like photographs, clothes or drawings that are brought to court to show what happened.

Exhibitionism: Behaviour by a person that involves the exposure of private parts of their body to another person in a situation when they would not normally be exposed. The act may be at least partially sexual or intended to attract the attention of another. 

Forensic Evidence: The scientific evidence collected from a victim, a crime scene and others, such as fingerprints and DNA. Samples may be gathered from a victim by ‘forensic examination’.

Frotteurism: Refers to a person either rubbing either their pelvis or erect penis against a non-consenting person for sexual gratification. It may involve touching any part of the body including the genital area.

This activity is often done in circumstances where the victim cannot easily respond, in a public place such as a crowded train or concert. Usually, such nonconsensual sexual contact is viewed as a criminal offence.

Grooming: Word used to describe the way sex offenders deliberately select and establish a relationship of trust with a child or young person which they then manipulate to exercise power over the victim.

Guilty: This means that the evidence has been enough to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the accused person committed the crime or part of the crime.

Indecent Exposure: Where a person exposes his/her genitals intending that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress. The exposure must be done with the intent that someone will see it and be caused alarm or distress. 

Licence: When an offender serving 12 months or over is released from prison before the end of their sentence, the licence sets out the conditions of behaviour which they must meet. Offenders under 21 are also subject to licence for sentences of less than 12 months.

MAPPA – Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements: MAPPA provides a national framework in England and Wales for the assessment and management of the risk of serious harm posed by specified sexual and violent offenders, including offenders who are considered to pose a risk, or potential risk, of serious harm to children. 

MAPPA’s focus is on specified sexual and violent offenders in, and returning to, the community and it aims to:

  • Ensure more comprehensive risk assessments are completed, taking advantage of co-ordinated information sharing across the agencies; and
  • Share information, assess and manage risk and direct the available resources to best protect the public from serious harm.

Offenders eligible for MAPPA are identified and information is gathered/shared about them across relevant agencies. The extent to which they pose a risk of serious harm is assessed and a risk management plan is implemented to protect the public.

NOMS – National Offender Management Service: The National Offender Management Service assesses the risk of serious harm using the Offender Assessment System (OASys) supplemented by additional assessment procedures.

Not Guilty: A verdict by a judge, magistrates or jury that a person accused of a crime did not commit it or that not enough evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.

Notification Orders: Notification Orders are intended to ensure that British citizens or residents, as foreign nationals, can be made subject to the notification requirements in the UK if they receive convictions or cautions for sexual offences overseas. Therefore, if an offender is identified who has received a conviction or caution for sexual offence overseas, the case should be referred to the local police. 

If a Notification Order is in force, the offender becomes subject to the requirements
of the Sex Offenders Registration.

OASys Offender Assessment System: The Offender Assessment System, which is usually shortened to OASys (pronounced “oasis”), is a standardised process for the assessment of offenders. Having interviewed the offender, read other relevant papers and discussed the case with any other professionals involved with the case, the assessor completes the OASys documentation.

An OASys assessment will be carried out at the pre-sentence report (PSR) stage and when an order or custodial sentence commences. Review assessments are conducted every 16 weeks throughout the sentence (whether in custody or the community) and at any time when there is a significant event or significant change to circumstances.

OBP – Offending Behaviour Programme: A programme of work undertaken with a sex offender which is designed to tackle the reasons or behaviour which leads to his or her offending.

Offender Management: Offender management is the term used by the Prison Service/Probation Service to explain the process by which the offender’s time in prison and on licence is managed to reduce the risk of reoffending.

Online Grooming: The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines online grooming as: “A course of conduct enacted by a suspected paedophile, which would give a reasonable person cause for concern that any meeting with a child arising from the conduct would be for unlawful purposes.” 

Organised Abuse: Sometimes referred to as ‘multiple abuse’ or ‘complex abuse’ and involves multiple abusers or victims. The abuser concerned may be acting in isolation, in connection with others or within an organisational framework (eg: schools, hospitals, residential homes)

Paedophile: This term implies the love of children by an adult for sexual purposes.

Plea: The answer the accused gives to the court at the beginning of court proceedings when they are asked if they are guilty or not guilty.

Police Bail: After the police arrest someone, they may release them from the police station if the person signs a document promising to come to court on the date the police have given them. They must also agree to other conditions, such as not committing any other crimes.

PND Police National Database: A computer system to allow police forces to quickly share information about suspects. This was developed in response to the Bichard Inquiry. Police Officers can now search online for every record held by forces in England and Wales on a particular person.

PPO – Prolific and Priority Offender: There is no national definition of a prolific offender, with the criteria set by local police forces. In London, a prolific offender is anyone over 18 involved in six or more indications of criminal activity over two years.

PPO – Police Protection Order: Under Section 46 of the Children Act 1989, the police have the power to remove a child from their home or elsewhere, or prevent a child from being removed from a safe place such as a hospital. 

PSR – Pre Sentence Report: A report to assist the court in deciding what sentence to give a person who is found guilty of an offence. A Pre- Sentence Report can be oral or written. If the offender is in custody, a Pre-Sentence Report may include information about the person’s behaviour in custody.

Rape: This revised arrestable offence now includes an intended penile penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth of the other person without the reasonable belief that the other person consents. 

RRASOR – Rapid Risk Assessment for Sex Offence Recidivism: This is a brief, 4–item screening instrument for assessing the risk of sexual offender recidivism among males who have been convicted of at least one sexual offence.

Registered Sex Offenders: Offenders who have committed crimes against either children or adults, and offenders who have committed crimes against neither. This includes crimes where there is no human victim, such as some internet crimes like entrapment or urinating in the park.
Offenders’ names are placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

ROTL – Release on Temporary Licence: Temporary release means that the offender will be able to leave the prison for work, training or to attend interviews or meetings. This will only happen if the prison says they are safe enough to be released temporarily.

Responsible Authority: Defined by the MAPPA guidance as those who have a statutory duty to lead on matters relating to public protection, including the Police, Probation and Prison Authorities.

Risk Matrix 2000: The risk assessment tool approved by NOMS and ACPO for the assessment of sex offenders. RM2000 gives a prediction of the likelihood of long-term reconviction for a sexual or non-sexual violent offence, by grouping the individual into one of four risk bands. RM2000 is helpful therefore in identifying which offenders are more likely to be reconvicted in the long term relative to others, and who consequently need greater attention.

Sentence Plan: Following a risk assessment, an offender manager or probation officer will write a sentence plan. This is for the offender to follow throughout the whole sentence, including any licence period. The sentence plan could include goals about changing behaviour and getting help with any drug and alcohol problems.

Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the person is aware of what is happening.

Sexual Assault: A sexual assault involves any sexual activity that is forced upon a person.

Sexual Exploitation: Children and young people who are sexually exploited are the victims of child sexual abuse. Children may have been sexually abused through the misuse of technology, coerced into sexual activity by criminal gangs or the victims of trafficking.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not the same as sexual assault. Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome sexual advances towards a person.

SOPOs – Sexual Offences Prevention Orders: Introduced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, SOPOs are civil preventative orders designed to protect the public from serious sexual harm. A court may make a SOPO when it deals with an offender who has received a conviction for an offence listed at Schedule 3 (sexual offences) or Schedule 5 (violent and other offences) to the Act and is assessed as posing a risk of serious sexual harm. SOPOs can be particularly helpful in the management of sex offenders who are assessed as continuing to pose a high risk of harm, but are no longer subject to statutory supervision.

Sex Offenders Register: A list of offenders who receive a conviction or caution for certain sexual offences. Offenders must notify the police of certain personal details within three days of their conviction or caution for a relevant sexual offence, or, if they are in prison on this date, within three days of their release.) Offenders must then notify the police, within three days, of any change to the notified details and whenever they spend seven days or more at another address. All offenders must reconfirm their details at least once every twelve months and notify the police seven days in advance of any travel overseas for three days or more.

All agencies must inform the police if they are aware of a sex offender who has changed their address or is planning to move without informing the police.

Sex Offender Treatment Programmes: These programmes aim to reduce sexual and violent offending. The courses are delivered by psychologists and specially trained prison officers and will be offered according to the risk and needs of the sex offender. Anybody convicted of a sex offence will be assessed to see if they are suitable for these courses, although they are voluntary and offenders can refuse to take part. 

Statement: A note or recording made by the police of what the witness has said.

VISOR Violent & Sexual Offenders Register: ViSOR is a national database which currently carries details of MAPPA-eligible offenders and other potentially dangerous individuals.

Violent Offenders Orders: Violent Offender Orders (VOOs) are civil preventative orders that were developed as a tool to help the Police Service to manage those offenders who continue to pose a risk of serious violent harm to the public, even after their release from prison or when their licence has ceased. The orders, similar to a sex offender order, give the power to the police to apply for a violent offender to be banned from visiting certain places, attending certain events or contacting specified people for between two and five years after they leave prison.

Voyeurism: Four offences have been specially created to deal with “Peeping Tom” type activities in the widest sense. All are arrestable. In its simplest form, it is an offence for any person to observe another person doing a “private act”, without consent, to obtain sexual gratification.

The fact a person is not observed is irrelevant if the necessary intent is there. Again sexual gratification is an essential ingredient, albeit in these offences the gratification could be for the third party.

Click here to download all of Bedford LSCB's Sexual Abuse Jargon Busting Tool


The majority of people that have a safeguarding responsibility do not need to learn the definition of all of these terms by heart. However, if you become involved in a safeguarding case then you may be exposed to some of the above terms and need to understand what is being said, which is why jargon busters can be very useful tools to have access to when needed.

For more information on some of the terms mentioned above, we offer an online ‘Child and Adult Sexual Exploitation’ training course which includes more detailed explanations of some of the key offences and procedures involved in cases of sexual abuse.