Consent

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

Consent is important for all people, of all sexualities, in all kinds of situations. It is especially important for any kind of sexual activity with another person. It is NEVER okay for someone to do something sexual to you without your consent. There are also some situations where a person can’t give consent.

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What does consent mean?

Generally, consent means getting permission to do something. This is important in many different types of everyday situations. For example, you should ask for someone’s permission before borrowing something or before posting a photo of them on social media. Consent to sexual experiences is no different.

Legally, consent means free and voluntary agreement. A person does not freely agree if they are pressured or threatened, or if they are asleep or unconscious. We explain more about what consent does, and doesn’t, look like below!

You must give and get consent before doing any sort of sexual activity with another person, not just penetrative sex. Consent is important for all people, of all sexualities and in all kinds of relationships.

Consent needs to be given each time. You need to make sure you have consent each time you do a sexual activity with another person. Remember:

  • just because someone has given consent in the past, it doesn’t mean that they agree to doing it again
  • a person can change their mind at any time
  • consent to one type of sexual activity is not consent to other kinds of sexual activity.

Want to find out more about what consent means, and what it looks like? Check out this resource: Kids Helpline – What is consent?

When do you need to make sure someone consents?

You need to have consent before doing any kind of sexual activity with another person. This includes kissing or touching someone, as well as oral or penetrative sex.

All people involved in a sexual activity need to consent, and make sure everyone else consents. However, it is especially important for the person initiating sexual activity to make sure the other person (or people) consents. 

What does consent look like?

Consent must be continually given and received. You can’t ever assume that someone has consented, even if you’re in a relationship with that person, or they have consented to something in the past. 

How do you know if someone is consenting? You can:

  • ask the person what they want to do (for example, ‘Can I kiss you’ or ‘Do you want to do what we were doing yesterday?’, or ‘Do you want to wait?’)
  • ask the person where their boundaries are (for example, ‘Do you feel comfortable doing this?’ ‘I was thinking about trying oral sex, how do you feel about that?’, or ‘Should we wait a bit longer?’)
  • check in regularly to make sure they are still comfortable, especially if they start to look uncomfortable or unsure
  • look at a person’s body language to see if they look comfortable (while body language can be a great way to figure out how the other person is feeling, it is never a replacement for verbal communication. It is always important to check in with the other person and make sure they consent.)

It is best to think of consent as an enthusiastic yes. Just because a person stays silent or doesn’t physically resist the sexual advances it does mean they give their consent. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time.

What consent doesn’t look like

Just because a person says ‘yes’, it does not always mean they have consented. The law says a person does not consent if they:

  • agree or submit because of force, fear of force, or fear of harm of any type, to themselves or another person
  • agree because they are unlawfully detained
  • are asleep, unconscious, or seriously affected by alcohol or another drug
  • can’t understand what’s happening
  • agree or submit because they have made a mistake about the identity of the other person, or the nature of the act
  • mistakenly believe that the act is for medical or hygienic purposes
  • agree or submit because of a false representation as to the nature or purpose of the act.

A person can withdraw their consent at any time. If a person changes their mind, or says something like ‘stop’, it is a crime to keep going.

A person cannot consent to sexual activity if they are under the age of consent. 

What does age of consent mean?

The age of consent is the age at which the law says a person can agree to sexual activity. If you are under the age of consent, the law says that you cannot legally agree to sexual activity, and any person who does something sexual with you has broken the law.

In the Northern Territory, the age of consent is 16. If you are 16 years old and above, you can legally have sex (or do another sexual activity) with another person who is 16 years or older as long as you both agree to it. 

In the Northern Territory, there is a legal defence which can be raised when someone is charged with a crime for sexual activity with someone under 16. This defence can apply where the person had sex with someone aged 14 or 15 and they reasonably thought that person was aged 16 or older. However, raising a defence like this to a criminal charge can be complicated!

Unlike some other states, there is no exception or legal defence in the Northern Territory which applies when two young people who are both under 16 and are the same age, or close in age, have sex. What this means is that it is not legal for two 15 year olds (or a 15 year old and a 13 year old) to have sex or engage in any sexual activity, because no-one under the age of 16 can legally consent to sex!

If you are 24 or under and you have any questions about these laws, you can contact us for free and confidential legal advice here.

Sending sexual pictures over a phone or internet

Sending a photo or video of a person doing a sexual act or showing their genital or anal region without their consent is image-based abuse, and it can be a crime. You can find out more on our page on image-based abuse.

There are special laws that apply to sexting with someone who is under 18 – including sending and receiving images or videos of young people who are under 18 – even if it is consensual. You can find out more on our page on sexting.

Has someone done something to you without your consent?

If you feel that someone has done something sexual to you without your consent, this is not okay, and it may be sexual abuse. You can find out more information about sexual abuse here.

You can contact us here for free and confidential legal advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Want to find out more?

You can also contact the services listed below to talk about anything relating to sex including safe sex, and what is considered normal or healthy in a relationship. They are not the police or a government department, and you do not have to give them your name and details if you don’t want to.

Family Planning Northern Territory is a sexual and reproductive health clinic and education service which has clinics in Darwin and Palmerston. You can call the Darwin Head Office on (08) 8948 0144 to make a booking.

Clinic 34 is a specialist sexual health service that provides testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS and emergency contraceptive options. They have clinics in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine, Nhulunbuy and Tennant Creek. Phone numbers for each clinic are listed on this website.

1800RESPECT provides free counselling, information and support for people who have experienced sexual assault or domestic and family violence. You can call them on 1800 737 732, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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