NSW sexual consent reforms move one step closer to becoming law

People in New South Wales could soon have to make sure their sexual partners are consenting or risk committing a crime, with a consent reform bill passing the lower house.

Saxon Mullins is a long-time campaigner for affirmative consent laws.

Saxon Mullins is a long-time campaigner for affirmative consent laws. Source: Sam Ruttyn

This article contains references to rape/sexual assault.

The rules around sexual consent in New South Wales are a step closer to being overhauled, with a bill to introduce a requirement for "affirmative consent" passing the lower house. 

The legislation is expected to come before the upper house in coming days, where it will likely garner enough support to become law.
If it passes, the Crimes Act will be changed to specify that consent to sexual activity must be communicated by words or action, rather than assumed.

If consent isn't communicated, the other person could be guilty of sexual assault.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman described the reforms as "a basic matter of respect" as he introduced the bill to the lower house last month.

The bill also spells out that just because someone doesn't physically or verbally resist a sexual activity, it does not mean they've consented.

"No one should assume someone is saying 'yes' just because they do not say 'no' or do not resist physically," he said.

"People are entitled to expect that if someone wants to have sex with them, then that other person will ask - and that if the first person has not said something or done something to communicate consent, then the other person will take further steps to ascertain consent."

The bill won support in the lower house on Wednesday evening, after several amendments moved by the Greens and Labor failed.

Greens MP Jenny Leong (centre) and others hang over 6,000 green ribbons to each represent sexual assault complaints at NSW Parliament.
Source: AAP

Greens spokesperson for women Jenny Leong called the development a significant achievement for sexual assault advocates and survivors.

"This is a significant moment. This is a very significant reform," Ms Leong said in a statement on Thursday.

"The Bill puts victim-survivors at the heart of the law, and removes rape myths and assumptions from the Crimes Act.

"It removes the patriarchal assumption that anyone is entitled to sex without the active, enthusiastic consent of the other person."

While Ms Leong acknowledged Mr Speakman and the multi-partisan support for the bill, she said credit sits with survivor-advocates, experts and activists - including Saxon Mullins, who has been advocating for change in laws relating to sexual assault. 

Ms Mullins endured two criminal trials and appeals for four years after her report of a sexual assault in 2013, which triggered the state’s law reform commission into consent. 

Speaking to SBS News after the bill was introduced to state parliament last month, Ms Mullins said the reform comes down to ensuring consent laws align with current common sense. 

“It is a really necessary change to our consent laws but it's also a really simple change and it's bringing the laws up to the standard that they should be at already,” she said.

If the bill is successful, it will follow a similar model in Tasmania, where criminal law states a person does not consent if they "do not say or do anything to communicate consent".

Victoria's laws are based on a model of communicative consent.

Ms Mullins said she believes the affirmative consent model in NSW will “open up discussions" and could result in sweeping change across the nation.

“People are now looking into ‘what is affirmative consent, what does that mean is that what I'm doing?’” she said.

Mr Speakman said the bill isn't just about holding perpetrators to account, but changing social behaviour.

The government plans to roll out extensive community education to make sure people understand how the affirmative model of consent works.

The bill also updates the definitions of 'sexual intercourse', 'sexual touching' and 'sexual act'.

With SBS News. 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Published 11 November 2021 at 4:55pm
Source: AAP - SBS