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The legal age for consensual sex varies across Australian state and territory jurisdictions (see Table 1).The age of consent is 16 years of age in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.The top end of the continuum may include physical force, threats of harm and overt violence.If the relationship between two children or young people under the legal age of consent is unequal, non-consensual or coercive, it is abusive and may require a child protection or judicial response.When an adult engages in sexual behaviour with someone below the age of consent, they are committing a criminal offence (child sexual abuse).Age of consent laws cannot be considered in isolation to other legislation concerning issues such as sexual assault and child sexual abuse.In Tasmania and South Australia the age of consent is 17 years of age.
This sheet is designed to inform practitioners and researchers of age of consent legislation in Australia.An important distinction should be made between "willingness" and "consent".A child may be willing to engage in sexual behaviour; however, as they do not have the decision-making capacity to give consent according to law, all sexual interactions between an adult and a person under the age of consent are considered abusive (Barbaree & Marshall, 2006).For more information about the legislation concerning these issues, see the report (Quadara, Nagy, Higgins, & Siegel, 2015).Age of consent laws are designed to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.
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A reasonable degree of equality needs to exist between the parties engaged in sexual activities, whether that pertains to relationships (authority and dependency), physical and/or intellectual capacity, or age (Conroy, Krishnakumar, & Leone, 2015; Craig, 2014; Mc Carthy & Thompson, 2004; Ryan, 1997).