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Sexual Consent Debated After Acquittal in Australia Rape Case

In acquitting Mr. Lazerus, Judge Robyn Tupman said that testimony from a female friend of his about sex on a first date had given her “insight into contemporary morality” — conveying Mr. Lazurus’s hyperaggressive behavior as within the bounds of modern sexual norms.

While Judge Tupman acknowledged that Ms. Mullins did not actively consent to the sex, she said her ruling focused on whether or not Mr. Lazerus knew she had not consented — a wrinkle that many view as a main limitation of the law.

Australia’s laws on the issue vary by state and territory. In announcing the commission into sexual consent laws, Pru Goward, the New South Wales minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said she believed the state should model itself after the state of Tasmania, where sexual consent needs to be active.

Sexual Consent Debated After Acquittal in Australia Rape Case
Sexual Consent Debated After Acquittal in Australia Rape Case

“You must explicitly ask for permission to have sex. If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, then it’s a no,” Ms. Goward said.

“The Tasmanian legislation is probably the most victim-centered,” said Helen Cockburn, a lecturer in criminal law at the University of Tasmania. “Where the victim is passive, there’s a presumption that they’re not consenting.”

In many other Australian jurisdictions, courts will look to see whether the victim actively resisted, in order to satisfy that they were nonconsenting, Dr. Cockburn added.

But discussion, too, has swelled around sexual culture in Australia, and whether changing the law can effect the change that victims of sexual violence seek.

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