5 core concepts of consent

The Australian Government has developed a framework to support any organisation working to prevent sexual violence, to promote healthy sexual relationships and sexual consent to young people.

The Commonwealth Consent Policy Framework: Promoting healthy sexual relationships and consent among young people defines sexual consent as a free, voluntary and informed agreement between people to participate in a sexual act. This agreement is only present when these people mutually and genuinely feel they want to engage in that sexual act and actively make sure their partner does too.

1 - Free and voluntary

Consent must be free and voluntary. It is present only when all people genuinely or enthusiastically want to engage in the sexual activity. 

All people engaging in any sexual acts must also be free from violence, pressure, coercion, threats, deception, intimidation, monitoring, degradation, surveillance, control or abuse of power. 

Someone who has a position of authority over another person cannot obtain that person’s consent.  

Consent to a sexual act is not transactional. Reaching, communicating or withholding consent is part of skills that are the foundation of healthy sexual activity and relationships. These skills are founded in empathy and communication.

2 - Specific and informed

Consent must be specific and informed. This means that consent is only present when everyone involved genuinely or enthusiastically wants to engage in that specific sexual act, and everyone understands what that act is and any potential consequences of that act.  

Agreeing to one specific sexual act does not mean agreeing to other kinds of sexual acts, including the on-sharing of sexual images or information. Agreeing includes how a specific sexual act is conducted, including the use of protection and contraception.

3 - Affirmative and communicated

Consent must be affirmative – meaning sexual partners need to actively say or do something to check for consent.

Communication is fundamental to consent. The communication of consent can be verbal and non verbal. 

Consent can never be assumed. Silence, freezing, the absence of a ‘no’, appearing disengaged or a lack of any apparent discomfort, hesitation or resistance, does not imply consent. Signs of physical arousal do not mean there is consent. 

4 - Ongoing and mutual

Consent must be ongoing and mutual. Consent for past sexual activity does not mean consent can be assumed in future sexual activity.

Consent can be withdrawn at any point in time. 

If one person consents but another does not, then consent is not present. All people must genuinely or enthusiastically want to engage in the sexual activity. 

5 - Reflects capacity

Everyone involved in a sexual act needs to have the capacity to reach, communicate or withhold consent. A range of factors, including age, intoxication, consciousness or other impairment, can affect this capacity to consent.

If someone is unconscious or asleep, they are not capable of giving consent. Laws across various jurisdictions may place restrictions on people’s ability to give consent, based on their age and the age of their sexual partner. 

In some cases, a person might be so affected by drugs or alcohol that they are not capable of giving consent. Intentionally giving someone alcohol or drugs to make them more likely to engage in a sexual act is a form of coercion. 

Everyone involved in a sexual act needs to consider and account for their sexual partner’s capacity to understand and agree to the sexual activity.

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