Friday, 24 May 2019

Emmerdale - the Jacob and Maya storyline

Emmerdale is a an ITV Yorkshire "soap opera" set in a fictitious village in the Yorkshire Dales. The programme is known for tackling difficult subjects and a recent storyline has been about teacher Maya Stepney (played by Louisa Clein) and her pupil Jacob Gallagher (Joe-Warren Plant).  Maya Stepney was the girl friend of Jacob's father David Metcalfe (played by Matthew Wolfenden).  The story began when Jacob was aged 15 and he and '30-seomthing' Maya became friendly.  It developed into an intimate relationship once he became 16. 

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is the key legislation containing the definitions of many sexual offences.  The background to the legislation is set out in the Explanatory Notes.  This post looks at two offences
which could arise if an actual situation, similar to that in Emmerdale, existed.

: Sexual communication with a child :
Section 15A

(1) A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if -

(a) for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, A intentionally communicates with another person (B),

(b) the communication is sexual or is intended to encourage B to make (whether to A or to another) a communication that is sexual, and

(c) B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over.

Section 15A(2) informs us when a communication is to be regarded as "sexual."  There are two possibilities.

a) where any part of the communication relates to sexual activity.  “Sexual activity” means an activity that a reasonable person would, in all the circumstances but regardless of any person's purpose, consider to be sexual.

b) where a reasonable person would, in all the circumstances but regardless of any person's purpose, consider any part of the communication to be sexual.

This offence is triable either way but if tried on indictment in the Crown Court the maximum sentence is 2 years imprisonment.

Evidence to support this charge would usually be mobile telephone communications or communications by email or other social media.

On 3 April 2017, the Ministry of Justice published Circular 2017/01 giving details of the new offence.  The circular emphasises that the offence is only committed if the adult acts for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.  Further, the offence automatically attracts the notification requirements for registered sex offenders under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The offence is discussed at The Conversation 1 February 2018  - A harsh reality of “contact” sexual offending is that many offenders will use various grooming techniques to enable them to commit sexual offences. Whether this is an online conversation manipulated into a face-to-face meeting, or a chat in a cafe or bar resulting in a victim being led to a less crowded area, the reoccurring themes are coercion, control and trust.   A new offence of sexual communication with a child was introduced in April 2017. Before this, police could not intervene until groomers attempted to meet victims face-to-face. 

: Abuse of a position of trust: sexual activity with a child :

Section 16(1)

A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if -

(a) he intentionally touches another person (B),

(b) the touching is sexual,

(c) A is in a position of trust in relation to B,

(d) where subsection (2) applies, A knows or could reasonably be expected to know of the circumstances by virtue of which he is in a position of trust in relation to B, and

(e) either -

(i)  B is under 18 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 18 or over, or

(ii) B is under 13.

Position of trust is defined in the lengthy section 21 and teachers are within the definition - see s.21(5).

The offence is triable either-way and, if tried on indictment in the Crown Court, it carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment for 5 years.  Sentencing guidelines for the Crown Court are HERE.

The guidelines follow the established approach - Deciding the Offence Category which involves consideration of the harm and the offender's culpability.  Aggravating and Mitigating factors are taken into account.

Suppose that for a particular case the harm was Category 1 and the Culpability at Level A then the starting point would be 18 months imprisonment with a range of 1 to 2 years. 

If the harm was Category 2 and the culpability at Level A then the starting point would be 1 year imprisonment with a range of 26 weeks to 18 months.

When sentencing appropriate category 2 or 3 offences, the court should also consider the custody threshold as follows:
  • has the custody threshold been passed?
  • if so, is it unavoidable that a custodial sentence be imposed?
  • if so, can that sentence be suspended?
Conviction would carry other consequences such as the inclusion of  the individual's name and details on the Children's Barred List maintained by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 s.2

Of course, a barred individual may not take part in any regulated activity from which he is barred - see 2006 Act s.7.


The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women. The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender. It should be noted that consent is not relevant to the two offences just discussed.


Some of the issues in the Emmerdale programme are discussed at BBC 23 May 2019 - Emmerdale: the myths around male sexual grooming explained.  It appears that ITV worked with Barnardo's on the storyline.  The children's charity said that there is a worrying lack of knowledge about the law around grooming.

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