While women around the world have taken to the streets in protest of sexual harassment, abuse and violence, NSW is taking action in hopes of doing better justice to the victims and survivors of sexual assault.
Following a review of the law reform commission, the NSW government agreed to changes to law reform with plans to adopt an affirmative consent model, meaning a person must do or say something which is to state that he has consent before sex occurs. Reforms are certainly a step in the right direction and there are countless women – some who have been identified, others who remain anonymous – who have campaigned tirelessly to enforce these laws.
One such name is Saxon Mullins, who presented his story in a recent Four Corners survey. The show focused on Sydney man Luke Lazarus, who was not found guilty of sexual assault on appeal, although a jury and two judges found that Mullins, 18, had not consented to sex with him. Mullins ’courage cannot be underestimated, as he endured two lawsuits and two appeals without final resolution. As state Attorney General Mark Speakman said in the episode, “This young woman’s courage to introduce herself and share her story is commendable,” and there are certainly many other women who have suffered a fate similar to Mullins.
Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about new legal reforms and how they may affect you.
What do the new reforms entail?
Under the new model of affirmative consent, a person must do or say something to assert that they have consent before sex occurs. This can be divided into the following:
- A person does not consent to sexual activity unless they say or do something to communicate their consent
- Belief in the defendant’s consent will not be reasonable in the circumstances unless he says or does something to determine the consent.
What does consent mean?
Consent is understood to be a free and voluntary agreement, but the new affirmative consent laws make it clear that it must be present when sex occurs. The reforms also state that a person has the right to withdraw consent at any time; make it clear that if someone accepts a sexual act, it does not mean that they have consented to other sexual acts; clarify the definitions of “sexual intercourse”, “sexual touch” and “sexual act”. And clarify that a defendant cannot rely on self-induced intoxication to prove that he has erred with consent.
Why are these new reforms important?
The affirmative consent model will better serve victims and survivors of sexual assault. It is hoped that by implementing the new reforms, obstacles in the processes of rape and sexual assault will be overcome, such as those experienced by Mullins, such as those who see that an offender has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the complainant had consented. .
The government also announced that it plans to introduce five new jury instructions for judges to give in the trial to address misconceptions about consent and ensure that the victim’s evidence is fairly assessed.
How do the laws differ from the current ones on sexual consent?
Earlier laws found a person guilty of sexual assault if they knew the other person did not consent, if they were “reckless as to whether” they consented, or if there were no reasonable grounds to believe there was consent. As Saxon Mullins demonstrated with his own story, this was profoundly problematic and saw Luke Lazarus’ conviction dismissed, as the judge held that he had a “genuine belief” that Mullins consented to it.
When will the law reforms come into force?
The laws will be tabled in parliament later this year, with The Guardian suggesting it could be between September and December.