Knowing what consent looks and sounds like can get tricky – especially in the heat of the moment, when people can see things differently from each other. Check out this example of what can happen when two people don't communicate about consent...

ONE STORY: TWO EXPERIENCES*

 
Jess, age 16

"I'll never forget that night as long as I live. Peter and I had been going out for a while and he had always acted like a really sweet guy — well, we had done some kissing and fooling around but he never gave me any reason not to trust him. The night of the party I wore this gorgeous dress that I borrowed from my sister. It was a bit showier than the clothes I normally wear but I thought it was very flattering. At the party I had some beer and it made me really tired so I wanted to lie down. Maybe I shouldn't have suggested we both lie down together but it felt weird to just go upstairs by myself and leave Peter all alone. The next thing I know he's all over me, forcing me to have sex with him. It was horrible. I didn't want to scream and make a fool of myself with all those other people in the next room. I tried to fight him off but he was really pushy. Needless to say, I never want to see Peter again. He seemed like such a nice guy. What happened?"

Peter, age 17

"I still don't understand what happened. Jess and I had been seeing each other for about two months and although we hadn't slept together yet, I had made it pretty clear that I was very attracted to her and eventually expected to have sex with her. We were supposed to go to a party and when she showed up in this sexy low-cut dress I thought maybe it was her way of saying she was ready. At the party we drank some beer, which made her sort of dopey and fun. When she said she wanted to go lie down and wanted me to come and snuggle with her, what was I supposed to think? Of course I thought she wanted to have sex. She did grumble a bit when I started to undress her but I just thought she wanted to be persuaded. Lots of women feel a bit funny about being forward and they want men to take responsibility for sex. I don't know. We had sex and it was fine. I took her home from the party and I thought everything was okay. But ever since then she refuses to talk to me or go out with me. I thought she really liked me. What happened?"

The facts:

  • Jess had a right to take him upstairs and feel safe.
  • Peter had a responsibility to check whether Jess wanted to have sex.
  • Jess didn't give her consent to have sex with Peter.
  • The issue is that Peter didn't check what Jess wanted and didn't read the obvious non-verbal signs that she didn't want to have sex.
  • Sexual assault can be any sexual behaviour that makes the victim/survivor feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened.
  • Consent = free agreement. This means both people are doing things because they want to, not because they feel forced.
  • Sexual assault charges could be made in this example.

* Note: 'ONE STORY: TWO EXPERIENCES' is adapted from page 44 of the CASA House Sexual Assault Sexual Assault Prevention Program for Prevention Program for Secondary Schools Secondary Schools (SAPPSS) REPORT (pdf download)

More info...
So how do you give and recognise consent and free agreement? Check out our other articles on consent.

Want to know more about the specific laws as they relate to each state of Australia? Read our 'Laws around consent' fact-sheet to see what the deal is in your state, and what's crossing the line...