Affirmative Consent Bill welcomed – but NSW Govt ‘needs to go further’

NSW women MPs stand with 6,000 green ribbons, each ribbon representing sexual assault testimonies, at NSW Parliament on Thursday, 21 October, 2021. Photo: Jenny Leong/Facebook.

By TILEAH DOBSON

Another battle in the war against sexual assault has been won, with the Affirmative Consent Bill passing the NSW Lower House last Wednesday night.

The Bill clearly states that:

  1. every person has a right to choose whether to participate in a sexual activity;
  2. consent to a sexual activity must not be presumed;
  3. consensual sexual activity involves ongoing and mutual communication, decision making and free and voluntary agreement between the persons participating in the sexual activity.

Sexual assault survivors and consent advocates are now awaiting the next step, which will see the Bill pass to the Upper House, where it is expected to gain enough support to pass into law.

The move would involve a change to the Crimes Act to specify that consent to sexual activity must be communicated via words or actions and never assumed.

Greens Spokesperson for Women and Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP, has voiced her enthusiasm for the passing of the Bill through the Lower House.

“This is a significant moment. This is a very significant reform,” Leong said.

“It means that it can no longer be assumed that someone consents to having sex. The person who wants sex must be able to demonstrate that they took steps to ensure that the other person also enthusiastically consents to this.

“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.”

Greens Spokesperson for Women, Jenny Leong (foreground) said the reforms have been a long time coming. Photo: Jenny Leong/Facebook.

The Bill follows a similar model to Tasmania’s, where criminal law states there is no consent by a person if they ‘do not say or do anything to communicate consent’. The Bill is expected to be the catalyst for sweeping changes to sexual consent across NSW – something Alex Greenwich, Independent Member for Sydney, agreed was much needed.

“I supported long-awaited reforms to sexual consent laws, which set a new approach in criminal law to sexual offences around consent,” Greenwich said.

“Consent can no longer be presumed, instead it requires ongoing and mutual communication, decision making and free voluntary agreement. The law will also include express circumstances when consent does not exist, such as when a person is too intoxicated to consent.

“The stronger focus on active consent better reflects community expectations that all people should be treated with respect and dignity, and given the opportunity to consent to sexual activity.”

Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich (right) with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore – who is a supporter of the Teach Us Consent campaign. Photo: Alex Greenwich/Facebook.

Govt ‘needs to go further’

While pleased with the step forward to preventing sexual violence, Jamal Hakim, the managing director of sexual health, reproductive and family planning organisation Marie Stopes Australia, believes the government needs to go further.

“It is critical that the NSW Government provide significant investment in violence prevention that is not limited to the judicial process. Additional investment in relationships and sexuality education, the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and health products should be prioritised by the government,” Hakim told the Sentinel.

“Comprehensive sexuality education throughout our lives is an important part of community education about bodies, privacy, open communication, enthusiastic consent and pleasure. This includes community-led initiatives being tailored and available at places including early learning centres, primary and high schools, universities, workplaces, community centres and aged care facilities,” he said.

“Investment in the provision of sexual and reproductive healthcare is currently ad-hoc and minimal and significant funding boosts are required in the areas of menstrual health, contraceptive care, abortion care, STI prevention and treatment and holistic sexual health consultations.”

Marie Stopes Australia is an independent, non-profit organisation and the country’s only nationally accredited provider of contraception, vasectomy and abortion services.

Victims of sexual assault can receive assistance through Marie Stopes Australia, including counselling before or after use of their services. They currently have three locations in Sydney – in the CBD, Kingswood and Westmead.

The Affirmative Consent Bill is expected to be sworn into law this week.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor of the Sydney Sentinel.