Speakman praises affirmative consent laws

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman with activist and sexual assault survivor Saxon Mullins. Picture: Supplied
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman with activist and sexual assault survivor Saxon Mullins. Picture: Supplied

A "generational change" to NSW's sexual consent laws is happening thanks to the bravery of one young woman.

Saxon Mullins, who was sexually assaulted in Kings Cross as an 18-year-old several years ago, fought to share her story with Australia and in doing so sparked changes which now require people to attain affirmative consent from their partner before engaging in sexual activity.

Her Four Corners appearance and courage in speaking out to bring about change sparked movements for reforms to consent laws in the office of NSW Attorney-General and Cronulla MP Mark Speakman.

"Victim-survivors, like Saxon, took up the cudgels for reform," he said.

"Showing immense courage, she shared her story with the world.

"The morning after the Four Corners episode went to air, I announced my decision to refer the question of NSW's law of consent to the NSW Law Reform Commission.

"This week, NSW Parliament passed reforms which go a step beyond the recommendations, introducing an affirmative model of consent."

Two amendments were added to the bill in the upper house, which include clarifying that cognitive or mental health impairments must be a "substantial" cause for failing to seek consent, as well as writing into law the terms and timelines for a review.

Judges, legal practitioners and police will receive targeted education programs on the new legislation before it comes into effect mid-next year.

There will also be new directions for juries to address common misconceptions in sexual assault cases, community awareness campaigns, and research into the experiences survivors have had with the criminal justice process.

Mr Speakman said the new laws were extremely clear.

"It's pretty simple; an accused won't have a reasonable belief that the other party is consenting unless the accused says or does something to ascertain consent," he said.

"I call it common decency. Saxon calls it common sense and I agree.

"The passage of these laws represents the culmination of Saxon's long fight to have our consent laws reflect the reality of sexual violence.

"If these new laws also mean that more people, in their most intimate moments, prioritise respect, well that's a good thing too."

Back in May, chief executive of the now-defunct Women's Safety NSW Hayley Foster said the laws were a "landmark decision".

"What these changes will mean in practice is that you cannot assume consent," she said.

"You must check in with the person you are with to ascertain whether they consent to a particular sexual activity.

"This may be through words or actions. So, for example, asking whether the person wants to engage in this activity, whether they are enjoying themselves, or asking them what it is that they want to do.

"It's also about the context - has there been a conversation before to make it clear that it's okay to say no? Is there an agreement on a safe word or action that the other person can do to show they want to stop?"

Ms Mullins said the next steps were just as critical as the legislation itself.

"If we just change the law nothing's actually going to change," she said.

"We need to have those community attitudes change as well, and so everything that goes along with it is so, so important."

- with AAP

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