Sexual consent laws in Australia are changing for the better in 2022, with New South Wales recently implementing new “affirmative consent” laws. From 1 June 2022, people must give and obtain consent at the time of the interaction (not in advance or after the fact). According to the new laws, a person can only give consent if they have said or done something to indicate they are giving consent. These come just days after Tasmania enacted a new law making the act of “stealthing” (removing a condom without consent) illegal.
As an international student, you might be unfamiliar with the broader consent laws in Australia. You may even be unfamiliar with the overall concept of consent or the importance of consent. If that sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.
So, what is consent and what do you need to know about consent in Australia? Let’s break down the most important facts.
What is consent?
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), the formal definition of consent is different in every state and territory. In general, consent refers to a person’s free agreement to partake in a specific activity (particularly sexual activity). Consent can only be given if it’s voluntary and there is no element of coercion, fear or intimidation involved.
People can also not offer consent if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, asleep or unconscious, or incoherent due to other factors. People with cognitive disabilities that affect their understanding of certain situations may not be able to provide consent.
Legal age of consent in Australia
It’s important to note that consent can only be given by individuals who meet the legal age of consent in Australia. People who are younger than this cannot legally give consent. The legal age of consent in Australia varies between states and territories; a full breakdown can be found below:
- ACT: 16 years old
- NSW: 16 years old
- NT: 16 years old
- Queensland: 16 years old
- SA: 17 years old
- Tasmania: 17 years old
- Victoria: 16 years old
- WA: 16 years old
Why is consent important?
The importance of consent (particularly sexual consent) can’t be understated. Consent is a crucial part of ensuring that every sexual interaction is safe and enjoyable for all parties involved.
Normalising conversations around consent is also a key part of lowering instances of sexual assault. In Australia, roughly 23 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men over the age of 18 have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. With stronger consent laws in Australia, people are not only more empowered to set their own boundaries but they are held more accountable to respect the boundaries of others.
Read more: Sex and Dating Culture in Australia
How can I ask for and/or give consent in Australia?
There are many ways you can ask for and give affirmative consent. Asking for consent can be as simple as asking, “Are you comfortable right now?” or “Is it okay if I…?” or “Do you want to keep going?”
On the other hand, providing consent can be as simple as saying, “Yes” or “I want to do this/keep going.” While there are also nonverbal ways of communicating consent – such as nodding your head – it needs to be completely clear to all parties that consent is being given.
You can find some of these examples in action via the NSW Government Make No Doubt campaign videos below.
Remember: you can always withdraw your consent at any time during any sexual interaction. It’s never too late to change your mind and, if that happens, your wishes should always be respected.
In the unfortunate event that you or someone you know experiences sexual assault or harassment, it’s important to know you’re not alone. There are several resources available to help and support you, which you can find in our guide here.