Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has been encouraged by the level of community feedback she’s received after introducing her bill to criminalise stealthing in the Legislative Assembly in April.
Ms Lee’s bill would amend the Crimes Act to include ‘stealthing’ – the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex – and patch up the legal grey area the practice is shrouded by.
“I brought the stealthing bill forward because it was an important aspect of the discussion about consent,” Ms Lee said
“It has received a huge amount of interest. The fact that it has raised the awareness of the existence of such a heinous practice is a really good first step to making sure our community knows that its lawmakers take seriously what their expectations are when it comes to protecting them from disgusting acts like that.”
The bill had broad support in the community and those who had different views about criminalising the practice mainly related to the drafting of the legislation, Ms Lee said.
“One of the things that has been raised is in relation to, ‘well, we think it might be covered anyway’,” she said.
“But my view was that even if that is the case, given the uncertainty and given that we have no court precedent, it is our job as lawmakers to make sure that our laws are clear.
“When I have responded in that way, I have received broad support for that position.”
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said it was the government’s view that stealthing was already illegal under the Crimes Act with consent being negated if obtained by fraud, but that there may be value in putting the offence beyond doubt.
“Put simply, stealthing is rape,” he said.
The ACT is currently working on its own set of consent and sexual assault law reforms.
The laws in the Territory will draw on NSW’s sexual consent reform package, as well as the NSW Law Reform Commission’s report from November last year which recommended an overhaul of consent laws and the legislative reform of sexual assault, including a clear definition of stealthing.
Stealthing can range from the offence of procuring a sexual act by fraud to rape on the basis that there is no consent, but there is no explicit law in Australia criminalising the practice, according to the Country Court of Victoria.
NSW’s sexual consent laws were recently strengthened and simplified in light of the NSW Law Reform Commission’s report.
The reforms introduced the concept of positive consent, where a person needs to say or do something to communicate consent.
An accused person also needs to prove they tried to ascertain consent in the circumstances.
The reforms were partially based on the Luke Lazarus trial after a judge-only retrial found him not guilty of his original conviction, sexual intercourse without consent.
The decision was based on the judge accepting that Mr Lazarus “had a genuine and honest belief that the complainant was consenting to intercourse”.
The NSW Government is currently responding to a large spike in sexual assault reports, up more than 60 per cent in March this year compared to the monthly average over previous years.
Only 1 per cent of people who had been subject to stealthing reported it to police despite more than half of victims reporting emotional distress following the incident, a 2018 study conducted by Monash University and the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre found.
It further revealed more than 30 per cent of women and just under 20 per cent of men said they had been stealthed.
NSW Attorney-General and Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Mark Speakman said the spike in reporting followed intense media coverage, highlighting how “significantly underreported” these crimes are.
“Our message to victim-survivors is, please know that you are not alone, and that help is available, whether that’s contacting the police or another support or counselling service,” he said.
If this story has brought up any issues, you can contact the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre’s support line on 6247 2525 between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm for all counselling-related inquiries, including all appointments and referrals.
1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 737 732.