A big change to laws around sexual consent has been passed today – meaning people who plan to have sex with others must do one thing before going ahead.
People in NSW who plan to have sex will need to take active steps to make sure the other person is on board, under new consent laws passed on Tuesday.
The new rules mean a person can’t reasonably believe another wants to have sex without doing or saying something to make sure that’s the case.
“If you want to engage in sexual activity with someone, then you need to do or say something to find out if they want to have sex with you too – it’s that simple,” NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said.
The reform aims to set “clearer boundaries for consensual sex” and to reinforce that consent should not be presumed, Mr Speakman said.
He succeeded in moving the law change through parliament after months of consultation and was backed up by victim advocate Saxon Mullins.
“I commend particularly survivor Saxon Mullins for her extraordinary bravery in sharing her lived experience and her tireless advocacy for victim-survivors to ensure their voices were heard, all of which has contributed to the passage of these reforms,” Mr Speakman said.
Ms Mullins tweeted after the law passed: “Every survivor and expert who helped this through changed the world today.”
“Not sure if I want to cry, dance, or drink champagne. Think I’m going to do a combination of all three,” she added.
The change will mean a person who does and says nothing – for example if they “freeze” due to fear – does not consent to sex.
It also means an accused person cannot reasonably believe the victim consented just because they didn’t say “no”.
Mr Speakman also said juries would be informed about common misconceptions about sexual assault as part of a reform package.
The government will also educate judges, legal professionals and police on the new laws ahead of mid-2022 when they will begin being implemented.
Sexual assault is the only crime that’s on the rise in NSW, according to the latest quarterly crime report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
Sexual assault was up by 21 per cent in the 24 months to June. All other crime categories had either gone down or were stable.
It’s a devastating crime that affects mainly women, with one in six women in Australia reporting they had suffered sexual assault, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The perpetrators are nearly always men. In 2018-2019, 97 per cent of sexual assault offenders were male, the AIHW said in a fact sheet published last year.
But the rate of conviction for sexual assault is low, with only 19 per cent of incidents reported to NSW police in 2019 leading to charges.