Affirmative consent is an active, voluntary, and mutual decision to engage in sexual activity.
The concept of affirmative consent emphasises the need for clear and enthusiastic communication of willingness to engage in sexual activity, rather than simply the absence of a "no." Affirmative consent has recently been enshrined in law in New South Wales, Australia, and we believe it should be adopted in the United Kingdom.
In March 2021, New South Wales passed a new law that defined consent as “free, voluntary, and informed agreement.” The law makes clear that consent must be ongoing and requires individuals to actively communicate their willingness at every stage of a sexual interaction. This approach to consent puts the responsibility for ensuring that both parties are comfortable and enthusiastic about the interaction on all parties involved, rather than solely on one party.
The new affirmative consent law in New South Wales placed greater emphasis on the need for communication and awareness of the other person's boundaries. The law recognises that individuals have different experiences and preferences and that it is essential to respect and understand these differences. In addition, the law also recognises that a person's ability to give consent may be impaired by a range of factors, including alcohol, drugs, or coercion.
Other jurisdictions have also implemented laws that attempt to replicate the notion of affirmative consent. Right to Equality has commissioned Oxford University to research the law of “consent” in other countries, in particular the affirmative consent model. We will be exploring the impact of such changes on understandings of consent. The research is due to be published in June 2023.
There are several reasons why the UK should consider adopting affirmative consent as the standard for sexual interactions. First, the current approach to consent in the UK is outdated and perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. The current approach defines consent as the absence of a "no," which often places the burden of responsibility solely on the victim to communicate their lack of consent. This puts individuals in vulnerable positions, particularly when they feel pressured or threatened by the other person.
At Right to Equality, we understand that changing laws will not eradicate rape, however adopting affirmative consent would help to create a culture of respect and understanding around sexual interactions. It sends a message that consent is not only necessary but also an active and ongoing process. It highlights the importance of communication and it promotes healthy and respectful sexual relationships.
Right to Equality believes adopting affirmative consent as law could increase prosecutions of rape. The current approach to consent in the UK makes it difficult to prove that a person did not consent to sexual activity. The burden of proof is often on the victim, who must demonstrate that they did not give consent. This approach to consent places an unfair burden on victims and it enables perpetrators to manipulate, coerce, and pressure their victims into sexual interactions without meaningful consent.
The current approach to consent in the UK perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes and places a disproportionate burden on women to communicate their lack of consent. This approach assumes that men are always the initiators of sexual activity and that women are passive recipients who must say "no." This reinforces harmful gender stereotypes and perpetuates a culture of inequality.
Finally, adopting affirmative consent would help to create a safer and more respectful environment for all individuals. It would help to promote healthy and respectful relationships and would send a clear message that sexual assault and rape are not acceptable. It would also help to create a culture of respect and understanding, which is essential for creating a safer and more equal society.
Right to Equality believes that affirmative consent emphasises the need for clear and enthusiastic communication of willingness to engage in sexual activity. Adopting affirmative consent as the standard for sexual interactions in the UK would help to create a safer, more respectful, and more equal society. It would promote healthy and respectful relationships, help to prosecute cases of sexual assault and rape, and create a culture of respect and mutuality.
We are delighted to be working with the Women’s Equality Party in bringing about this change.