Two of Wagga’s leading advocates for women’s safety have welcomed the decision to place consent at the core of NSW’s first sexual assault strategy.
The policy, announced late last week, will involve better community education about consent, trauma informed training and tougher accountability for perpetrators.
Gail Meyer, manager of the Wagga Women’s Health Centre, said it was a timely announcement.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault are both gendered crimes, there are male victims, but predominantly women are the victims of these crimes,” she said.
“A greater understanding within the community about what that means and work to prevent it is important.”
Julie Mecham, a crisis and support worker at the Wagga Women’s Health Centre, said she hoped the strategy addressed the impact on the communities.
“Every time we hear those stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment it impacts our community and has a tendency to make women feel unsafe and people don’t know how to make those changes,” she said.
Ms Mecham said she was pleased to see the issue of the grey areas surrounding consent raised.
“It’s important for women to know consent has to be explicit,” she said.
“It’s about educating both partners and to get them asking them questions like ‘how do you feel?’.
“This empowers the other to respond and say something like ‘I’m not comfortable’.
Both Ms Meyer and Ms Mecham explained consent can be withdrawn and in circumstances where an individual is using a substance, such as alcohol, they cannot provide consent.
“People of different ability levels have different captacities to provide consent,” Ms Meyer said.
“You also need to consider people who are vulnerable and ensure that anyone with less power in a relationship isn’t being taken advantage of,” Ms Mecham added.
Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Pru Goward said the strategy focuses on protecting child victims and abuse survivors, as well as preventing sexual assault and harassment in universities, TAFEs and the workplace.
“The impact of sexual assault on victims is profound and long-lasting, and it requires a whole of community response if we are to reduce the number of incidents and the damage caused by this crime,” she said.
“The NSW Government’s Sexual Assault Strategy proposes an integrated response that is not just focused on the crisis point of the system, but also in the critical areas of prevention and early intervention.”
The priority actions of the strategy include the referral of current consent laws to the NSW Law Reform Commission and a multi-pronged awareness campaign to promote the obtaining of a clear ‘yes’ when seeking consent to sexual activity.