Consent laws must protect vulnerable people

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has given feedback on Dr Marisa Paterson MLA’s exposure draft of the Crimes (Consent) Amendment Bill 2021. The Bill introduces a new definition of consent based on free and voluntary agreement.

In its response, ACTCOSS agreed to a need for consent to be communicated, not assumed. This brings us in line with other jurisdictions and makes it easier to address sexual assault.

ACTCOSS A/g CEO Craig Wallace said: “Nationally, less than 40% of sexual assault cases result in a guilty verdict. In the ACT, trials and conviction rates have dropped significantly, despite increases in reports to victim services and police.

“Countless other assaults are never reported, due to actual and perceived difficulty of prosecution. This legislation, coupled with effective community education programs, will make a substantive difference in people’s lives.

“Sexual violence most commonly affects some of the most vulnerable members of our community, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women, women with a disability, culturally and linguistically diverse women and LGBTIQA+ people,” said Mr Wallace.

In Australia, 70% of women with a disability have experienced sexual violence, and almost half of the LGBTIQA+ community has experienced sexual assault.

Mr Wallace said: “We support the draft, yet suggest further clarity and consultation in relation to potential perverse consequences and impacts on marginalised people. ACTCOSS is concerned members of the LGBTIQA+ community could be captured under new provisions if they do not disclose their sexual or gender identity or history prior to engaging in relationships. The legislation must also address the complexities for some people with disability in communicating consent.

“ACTCOSS supports the proposed legislative changes and the opportunity they provide for victims to address trauma they have experienced. However, government must examine mitigations to avoid unintended and potentially harmful consequences,” said Mr Wallace.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

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