Passing of historic consent laws

23 November 2021

Historic consent laws pass NSW Parliament

Women’s Legal Service NSW welcomes the passing of historic consent laws which make clear consent involves “ongoing and mutual communication” and “free and voluntary agreement” and cannot be presumed.

Affirmative consent laws mean that in order for an accused person’s belief in consent to be considered reasonable the accused will need to say or do something to find out whether the other person consents to the sexual activity, unless an exception applies.

“We welcome the better recognition of sexual violence within a domestic and family violence and abuse context through the clarifying of circumstances in which there is no consent, including because of force, fear of force or fear of serious harm of any kind to the person, another person, animal or property; coercion; and a person is “overborne by the abuse of a relationship of authority, trust or dependence”. We also welcome the new jury directions,” says Liz Snell, Law Reform and Policy Co-ordinator, Women’s Legal Service NSW.

“We thank survivors for bravely sharing their stories and for their ongoing advocacy which has resulted in these important reforms. We particularly acknowledge Saxon Mullins.  We also thank the NSW Government and Members of NSW Parliament for listening and responding to the concerns of people with lived experience,” says Ms Snell.

“These reforms need to be complemented with a specialist response to sexual violence – we need specialist police, specialist prosecutors, specialist judges, specialist interpreters and specialist support services responding to sexual violence,” says Ms Snell.

“For these reforms to be successful extensive education is also required – a comprehensive, evidence-based community education campaign about the drivers of gender-based violence, respectful relationships and ethical sexual practice, developed by experts, as well as ongoing and comprehensive training for police, prosecutors and judicial officers.”

“It is important that education undertaken on these reforms, including the effectiveness of such training, will be considered as part of the legislative review process,” says Ms Snell.

“Such education is crucial but must not be limited to the mechanics of changes to the law.  It must include an understanding of the nature and dynamics of sexual violence, including sexual violence perpetrated within a domestic and family violence and abuse context (focused on coercion, control and/or causing fear); a thorough understanding of trauma; conscious and unconscious bias; barriers to reporting sexual violence; cultural safety; disability awareness; LGBTIQA+ awareness; and vicarious trauma. We need to start from a place of believing survivors and keeping them well informed about the progress of their matter,” says Ms Snell.

“Those who have experienced sexual violence must be able to access the support they need when they need it – including access to gendered, trauma informed, culturally safe counselling and wrap around services including intensive case management as well as early specialist legal advice,” says Ms Snell.

“We also commend the legislating of regular reviews of these new laws to ensure the legislation is achieving its policy intent,” says Ms Snell.

“We look forward to working with the NSW Government on the implementation of these important reforms.”

Read Women’s Legal Service NSW submissions to the consent review:

WLS NSW submission in response to the NSWLRC Draft Proposals, 18 November 2019

WLS NSW submission in response to the NSWLRC Consultation Paper, 22 February 2019

WLS NSW preliminary submission to the NSWLRC Review on consent in relation to sexual offences, 28 June 2018

The NSW Law Reform Commission’s Report 148 – Consent in relation to sexual offences, September 2020.


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