26 September 2023

New intimate laws step closer to consent

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New affirmative consent laws have been introduced to the Parliament this week promising better protections for victim-survivors of sexual offences.

Welcoming the Justice Legislation Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Bill 2022, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the Bill included amendments that would adopt an affirmative consent model and target image-based sexual abuse.

Ms Symes said the Bill was the first tranche of legislative reforms responding to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences report.

“For their belief in consent to be reasonable, a person must have taken steps by saying or doing something to find out if the other person consents,” Ms Symes said, “simply, it must be a clear and enthusiastic go-ahead.”

“This can include, but isn’t limited to verbally asking and getting a ‘yes’, a physical gesture like a nod or reciprocating a move such as removing clothes,” she said.

“Even if a person meets this minimum requirement to take steps, their belief in consent must still be reasonable in all the circumstances – for example taking into consideration if the steps went far enough, or if there were cues such as pushing away the accused’s hand or facial reactions.”

Ms Symes said the reforms would also clarify the circumstances where there was no consent to an act.

She said stronger laws to target image-based sexual abuse were also introduced, which included taking intimate videos of someone without their consent and distributing, or threatening to distribute, intimate images, including deepfake porn.

“The Bill includes new jury directions to address misconceptions in sexual offence trials and reforms to better protect the confidential health information of sexual offence complainants,” the Attorney-General said.

“These reforms will be supported by community-based education delivered by local organisations and specialist services, announced in the Victorian Budget 2022/23.”

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