Why we need to talk about sexual consent

There were 4,859 recorded victims of sexual assault in Queensland in 2019. Almost one quarter of victims were aged between 15 and 19 years.

Centacare Family and Relationships Services Director Di Swan said that sexual violence is an issue that can be prevented.

“As a community, we don’t always provide young people with information about sexual consent and negotiating romantic or sexual relationships as part of sex education,” said Ms Swan. “Doing so has the potential to contribute to the prevention of sexual violence.

“While it may be awkward or embarrassing to talk with young people about sex and relationships, research shows how important it is to initiate discussions about ethical and respectful relationships from a young age. This gives young people the skills to discuss, negotiate and articulate their own sexual boundaries and to respect those of others.

Each year, during Sexual Violence Awareness Month, Centacare works with local communities to increase awareness and education around sexual consent, including knowing the age of consent under the law.

What is the Age of Consent in Queensland?

The Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899 defines the age of consent at 16 years. Age of consent laws exist not only to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse from adults and older young people; but also to give them time to be developmentally mature enough to make healthy, safe decisions about sexual interactions and relationships between children and young people. Professionals in the child, family and community sector have a role in appropriately identifying, understanding and responding to children and young people’s displays of sexual behaviour to support healthy sexual development and ensure children and young people are protected from harm and abuse.

What is sexual consent?

Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Consenting and asking for consent is all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner and checking in if things aren’t clear.

It’s important to ensure that the person you’re with is happy and comfortable, because non-consensual sexual activity (anything from touching, kissing to penetration) is a form of sexual violence. The emotional consequences of non-consensual sexual activity can last a lifetime.

Sexual consent needs to be:

  • freely given – implied or coerced “consent” isn’t real consent
  • reversible – can be withdrawn at any time
  • informed – consent requires knowing what’s going on
  • willing – it must be yes, not maybe
  • specific – consenting to one thing does not mean yes to other things.

No one can give sexual consent if:

  • they are under the age of 16
  • they are asleep or unconscious
  • they have been threatened, intimidated or coerced
  • they are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol
  • a person in authority is misusing the trust inherent in their position
  • they change their mind — earlier consent doesn’t count as consent later
  • their wishes or nonverbal cues to stop (like pushing away) are ignored
  • they have consented for one sexual act, but not another sexual act
  • they are pressured to say yes
  • their capacity to consent may be inhibited due to a learning disability or mental health issue.

How do you know if you have consent?

  • Ask yourself if the other person is capable of giving consent and over the age of 16.
  • Ask questions such as ‘Are you comfortable with me doing this?’, ‘Do you want me to stop?’ and ‘Do you want to have sex or would you like to wait?’
  • Check with the other person before you start a new type of sexual activity.
  • Look at their body language and facial expression to see if they are willing and comfortable.
  • If the other person seems unhappy, or you are not sure that they are consenting, stop.
  • Silence, or the absence of a “no”, does not guarantee that somebody is consenting.
  • A clear, affirmative and freely-given “yes” indicates consent.

If you have experienced sexual violence, support is available

If you have experienced sexual violence, it is important to remember that it is not your fault.

Centacare Family and Relationship Services Kingaroy offers a safe and supportive space for those impacted by sexual violence. We can help you develop strategies to manage the impact of violence on your life.

1800RESPECT offers a confidential information, counselling and support service for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.