Quick escape
See Categories

Consent should be clear long before the law gets involved

May 09 2018 By Mary Barry, Our Watch CEO

This week, a young woman named Saxon Mullins bravely shared her story on ABC’s Four Corners.

Saxon Mullins Image

Her case, which has sparked extensive media coverage, is deeply disturbing and pushes us as a society to ask some tough questions about the notion of consent.

The facts of the case, undisputed by both parties, are distressing. Luke Lazarus took the then 18-year-old Ms Mullins to an alley behind a Kings Cross nightclub where he had anal sex with her.

It’s a horrific case and Ms Mullins showed enormous courage in sharing her story. Importantly, by giving up her right to anonymity and speaking to Four Corners, she has shone a light on some profound flaws both in our legal system and in the behaviours and attitudes displayed by many young men about sex and women.

This distressing case is a powerful reminder about the need to teach young men about respect, communication and the absolute need for ongoing, clear consent. For far too long, both legally and socially, the burden has been on the rape or assault victim to prove they did not consent, or that they fought back, not on the perpetrator to show that they at least asked for consent.

The five-year-long legal battle has now concluded, but with no finality for any of those involved. Although a jury and two judges found that Ms Mullins did not consent to sex, there is a grey area in the law over whether this was clear enough to Mr Lazarus.

Although there have been further legal arguments, and significant criticism of the appeal judgment, there will be no more trials. But as a direct result of Ms Mullins speaking out, there will be a much-needed review of the law around consent. The NSW Government has announced it will refer the state’s consent laws to the Law Reform Commission.

Among the vile details revealed about that night, the court heard that Mr Lazarus told Ms Mullins to put her name into his phone to add to what he called “the trophy list” and later boasted in a text to a friend that it had been “a sick night. Took a chick’s virginity, lol.”

Sadly, our evidence shows this is not an isolated attitude. A recent survey of over 1000 young people found that almost 60 per cent believed that stopping unwanted sex was “up to the girl”. The same research found that many young people are forming their ideas about intimacy from porn, instead of through conversations with their parents, or through respectful relationships education at school.

The ordeal endured by Saxon Mullins confirms what the research tells us — that young people desperately need support and education around healthy, respectful ways to enjoy sexual relationships, be they fleeting encounters or ongoing partnerships. Boys and young men must be taught that any sexual interaction must involve clear and ongoing consent.

As Ms Mullins told the ABC: “All you need to say is, ‘Do you want to be here?’ And very clearly, ‘Do you want to have sex with me?’ If it’s not an enthusiastic ‘yes’, it’s a ‘no’. That’s it. And then, you’re committing a crime.”

Our Watch’s youth initiative, The Line gives young people information they might not be getting elsewhere on topics including relationships, gender, sex, technology and communication. The Line talks about how to keep behaviours healthy and respectful, with information on sex and relationships for parents as well as young people.

We know that if we are to avoid these kinds of dangerous and harmful ideas about sex and relationships, good information and support must be available early, in schools, on social media and for families.

Ms Mullins said she spoke out so that others might not suffer an ordeal like hers. As a community we must step up and act to ensure that her bravery is not wasted.

This piece was originally published on news.com.au.