Greens Support Long Overdue Consent Reform

Today Abigail spoke in support of the incredibly overdue and much needed Sexual Consent Reform Bill. 

Abigail said:

On behalf of The Greens I contribute to debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Consent Reforms) Bill 2021 and indicate that we will be supporting it. I put on record my sympathy and thanks to the Attorney General for not just taking steps to reform sexual consent law but also putting forward a reform that will actually make a difference. It is a good bill that shows that the Attorney General not only has listened to victim-survivors but also has the courage to advocate for them. I thank also the member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, who led for The Greens in the other place and has driven months of dedicated and considered consultation with victim-survivors, experts and advocates.

Just over two years ago, I sat and watched "I am that girl", theFour Corners episode that told the story of when 21-year-old Luke Lazarus raped 18-year-old Saxon Mullins in an alleyway in Kings Cross. I have framed that quite deliberately. This was not a story of a woman getting raped; this was a story of a man choosing to rape a woman and doing what he wanted to without her consent. That rape occurred not because of any action by Saxon but solely because of a choice by Luke Lazarus—a choice to rape her. Four minutes after he met her and lied to her about where they were going, he led her outside, took off her underwear, demanded she "put her fucking hands on the wall" and, after trying to penetrate her vagina with his penis, told her to get on her hands and knees in the gravel and penetrated her anus with his penis. When Saxon was examined the next day, she had grazing on both knees and painful grazes around the entrance to her anus. She was in extreme physical pain. Meanwhile, Luke Lazarus texted his friends to boast that he "took a chick's virginity".

It is hard to believe that Luke Lazarus' actions that night could be seen as anything but criminal—it was a deliberate choice to rape a woman he had just met—yet, under our current criminal laws, astonishingly Luke Lazarus was found not guilty. Why? Because, on appeal, it was found that Lazarus believed he had Saxon's consent and it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that there was no reasonable basis for the belief that she was consenting. He apparently had reasonable grounds to believe that a woman he had just met had consented to be anally penetrated by him on her knees in the gravel of an alleyway. He did not need to ask her if she consented. He did not even need to take "no" or "stop" as an indication of a lack of consent. He did not need to worry about whether or not she was too drunk to consent. He just needed to have formed a reasonable belief that she in fact wanted him to do what he did to her. Luke Lazarus walked free, and Saxon, after a five-year ordeal, was left hurt, traumatised, anxious, worried for her safety and unable to sleep.

The impact of rape cannot be overstated. I have spoken in this place before about my own experiences of sexual assault. I was raped for the first time at eight years old and was subjected to it continuously for many years. Growing up, I thought it was my fault. I was riddled with guilt and the anxiety of not knowing when it would happen next, trying to drown out my thoughts of it by repeating "it's okay" over and over in my mind for years. For a long time, my experience as a child interfered with getting on with my life. I was desperate not to be too successful, not to be in the public eye and not even to be praised for having done something well for fear that I would be found out for having allowed myself to be raped and that my shame would be publicised for the world to see.

I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] as a result of my experiences. Complex PTSD can occur after prolonged and repeated trauma, particularly due to child abuse. This means that I not only often have difficulty expressing my emotions but also sometimes have difficulty feeling anything at all. We are all relatively familiar with the fight or flight responses in moments of stress or danger, but we often neglect the freeze response. I spend long periods stuck in the freeze response, not just mentally but also physically. My whole body slows down because freezing, not feeling and going somewhere else in my mind is a really good way of avoiding pain. Whether it is pain that I am experiencing right then and there or pain from memories, freezing is a protective mechanism, but, if you are stuck in it, you miss out on the richness of emotions and connections with others.

I have had a decade of therapy to unpick my trauma, to recognise it and to work to stop it from taking over my life. I mention it here because, although perpetrators of rape can face consequences for their actions, their reputation might be damaged, they might lose their jobs or they might even end up in jail, those consequences have an end. But for victim-survivors, we carry it with us always. I will always have this trauma. I carry it with me. Occasionally, I will unpack it and, occasionally, it sort of unpacks me. But it is with me forever. With therapy, I can make it less of a problem—at least temporarily. But it is part of me now.

The bill in front of us today is so important. This is not about punishing perpetrators. It is about providing justice for victim‑survivors. It is a clear signal that we victim‑survivors are not to blame for the actions that were done to us by other people. That is a vital step in closure, validation, and a healing of trauma. This bill is a victim‑survivor‑centred reform. Finally, we have legislation that gives us back our agency. This is a law that says my body is not for your use without my consent; it is not up to me to tell you no; it is not up to me to fight you physically; it is not up to me to change the way I dress, the way I walk, what time I walk outside, who I talk to, where I go. Instead, this bill says it is up to you. It is up to you to ask me for my consent before you can lay your hands on my body.

Do not give me that rubbish about consent not being sexy or somehow wrecking the mood. There is nothing more sexy than having sex with someone who respects your bodily autonomy, and there is nothing more sexy than having sex with a person who wants to have sex with you. Anyone who does not agree with that simple proposition—anyone who thinks that it is sexy to have to force themselves on someone without consent—has deep psychological problems that they need to get help for. I will mention that men, in particular, forcing themselves on women is not a rare circumstance. Most women you know have been forced to engage in sexual contact that they did not want, many times. Unfortunately, having been raped as a child did not give me a leave pass from future non‑consensual encounters with men. From unwanted kisses, to surprise gropes, to being pinned against walls by strangers in nightclubs, to suddenly having someone on top of you after you have fallen asleep drunk—these are average, normal, everyday experiences of women. It has to stop.

With the model of enthusiastic consent embedded within this bill, finally victim‑survivors of sexual assault will have a legal recourse, and, more importantly, a clear signal will be sent that doing these things without consent will not be tolerated. It is not okay. I want to share the story of a person who is really close to me, with her consent. She says:

"When I was assaulted by my partner of three months, it began with him deciding he wanted to try something different. With my agreement, he tied my wrists together and then to a pole. He then wanted to also blindfold me. I said I was not comfortable with both not being able to move and not being able to see, but he said that it would be fine and then blindfolded me. I didn't continue to object and I didn't resist. When he began having sex with me it was rough—which wasn't unusual. I felt overwhelmed by the combination of sensory deprivation, restraint and violence and told him to stop almost immediately. I said, "No! Stop!". He didn't stop. So I continued to tell him to stop and tried to struggle against him to make him stop. In response, he put his forearm on my abdomen to hold me down and the sex became more rough and painful. I couldn't move my torso properly because of the weight of his forearm.

I eventually stopped struggling and telling him to stop. He continued—I don't know for how long. I suppose I dissociated. When he untied my wrists and removed the blindfold, he asked me if I was okay, as I had tears on my face. I asked him why he didn't stop when I told him to and he said that thought that I was saying "Stop" for his benefit, as it turned him on when I did this. He had never shared this with me before and I had never said "Stop" without meaning it. Previously, "Stop" had always meant stop. He then said if I really wanted him to stop I would have made him stop. When I tried to raise it with him again a few days later, after coming to a slow realisation that what happened was sexual assault, he said that I had to either report it to the police, right then and there and ruin the rest of our life or "Get over it". Few people want to confront accusations that they are a rapist. I truly think that because he couldn't or didn't want to confront that, he deluded himself into believing that my resistance and stops were all a part of a new game, and that my consent had never really been withdrawn."

I thank her for her consent to read that story today. WatchingFour Corners that night, just over three years ago, began a very important personal journey for me. My admiration for Saxon cannot be expressed in words. I spoke with her on this issue earlier this year, and I admit that I was starstruck. I hope she knows how important her words, her honest sharing of her story—and the way in which she has pursued this law reform—has been for women and girls everywhere. Saxon gave me strength that night to start telling my own stories. I also credit Bri Lee. Reading her bookEggshell Skull was another one of those moments of opening my eyes, understanding myself better and finding comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my experiences and my trauma. Together, victim‑survivors can lift each other up. They should know that the work that they do means so much and helps so many.

Other amazing and fearless advocates and victim‑survivors have been mentioned by my colleague Ms Jenny Leong, the member for Newtown, in her contribution to the second reading debate when this bill was considered in the other place. I endorse all of her comments and echo her thanks to those people—this could not have happened without them. This is an incredibly difficult topic for me and I thank Jenny for her patience as I have pulled towards and then away from the campaign, as needed, to manage my own and my team members' mental health. Her work with the sector on this issue has been impeccable. I acknowledge and thank her for tirelessly and ferociously advocating for women. The Greens have a few amendments to bring which we believe will strengthen this bill even further. However, it is with genuine pleasure that I state again that The Greens enthusiastically support this reform.

 

The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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