Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:58): I am pleased to rise to speak briefly to the Justice Legislation Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Bill 2022. It has been interesting and really fruitful listening to this debate. I think when the public thinks about what we do, to hear the very heartfelt and sensible comments that are being made in this chamber about this bill I hope builds some faith in the Parliament itself, because this is an important bill. It will reform the way sexual violence, rape, is dealt with in Victoria by adopting an affirmative consent model, something that advocates have been calling for for not just years but I would say probably decades. It acquits the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission and makes it clear that a person cannot have a reasonable belief in consent if they did not say or do anything to find out.
The way someone dresses is not consent. How much that person has had to drink is not consent. How that person walks home at night is not consent. We have all been, I am sure, involved with the Me Too movement, some of us probably in a more personal way than others, and before that we would march in the streets. We had marches in the street to keep women safe at night, and that started in the 1970s. Also for many years I was involved in a group called SlutWalk, which was again about saying that consent has to be affirmative. Consent is not suggesting ‘Well, she seemed to like me’ or ‘Gosh, she looked like she liked me’ or ‘She was dressed in a certain way’. So I think this is a proud day to be here to see this campaign come to fruition and see affirmative consent introduced into our justice legislation.
I was sexually assaulted as a young person, and I am not alone. The statistics show that if there are five women in a room there will certainly be number of them who have been assaulted. When you look at the LGBTIQA community those statistics become even higher. Particularly for our transgender community, the statistics are alarming. I did not report it to the police. I did speak to the person—he was an acquaintance—and made him understand very clearly that there was no consent there and that it was in actual fact sexual assault and in fact it was rape. That did not stop him. After that happened I actually went and spoke to his mates and told them what happened, and I am very grateful for those fellows—those young surfer guys. They immediately acted. They immediately asked that man to leave and they told him they never wanted to see him at the camp ever again, and we did not; he never came back. Had there been affirmative consent, had we had these conversations—because this was a long time ago, and it is still not much better. Most women or most people who are sexually assaulted will not go and report it, because they are worried that they will not be believed. They are worried that the bar is set at a certain level of proof so that in some ways they have to prove that they have been sexually assaulted, and basically they do. Affirmative consent takes this back, so that the perpetrator has to show that there was consent and has to show it in explicit and clear ways. The only person responsible for sexual assault is the person who did it.
So this change I hope will affect women today, and I hope that the outcome of this legislation will mean that more women will want to report and that, more importantly, less people will be raped or sexually assaulted. This is part of an education campaign, this is part of a worldwide movement. We saw that New Zealand has actually prosecuted people under some affirmative consent laws and some stealthing laws that I will mention in a moment, and we have seen other jurisdictions follow this path. We will see the ability for us to run national campaigns. This is yet another tool for us to address sexual violence in our community.
The bill also makes some important changes around stealthing and image-based sexual offences, and I am happy to support those. As someone who is a bit involved in the sex worker community, the term ‘stealthing’ is actually abhorred. Sex workers prefer not to call it stealthing. They prefer to call it sexual assault. When we were discussing this years ago there would be concerns about people saying ‘stealthing’. I think it came into our dictionary about five or six years ago, and sex workers would say that that kind of diminishes the harm that that action does to a person.
If a sex worker is working and someone pulls off a condom without consent, that is sexual assault, and this legislation goes to that, which I am very pleased about. So despite the term, the impact is that stealthing is now seen as sexual assault. For a sex worker this often would mean that they could no longer work, because they would have to take time off for sexual health checks to ensure that it had not caused any transmission of any STIs. There would also be the mental harm from this as well. So for sex workers I think there was a sense of urgency for this to be addressed, and I think if I remember rightly this was also raised in the debate around sex work law reform.
I would just like to touch on the proposed amendments by the opposition. I listened to Dr Bach presenting those amendments, and I have some sympathy to those arguments—certainly if there is a person in this room that knows about educating and speaking to young people it is Dr Bach. The reason I could not get there was the consistency of the Northern Territory, the ACT, Queensland and New South Wales. In having the same interpretations, in having the same definitions, I think we can approach this on a national level. Having a standardised interpretation also provides for a body of precedent from the other jurisdictions in other areas, and I think I have enough faith in the judicial officers to navigate around the word ‘voluntary’ here. As I said, importantly it will assist us in consistent education across the state and across the country, to assist in changing—frankly, and as Mr Melhem put it—men’s behaviour.
The Greens have put up some amendments to this legislation as well, and while I agree entirely with the purposes of these amendments—and I absolutely support the advocacy from my friends at the Victorian Pride Lobby and Equality Australia—I think what these amendments do is actually highlight that we need to rework the Crimes Act 1958, that actually our whole Crimes Act needs to be updated. So there is a little bit of homework for the Attorney-General—I suspect possibly not before this election, not before the end of this term. But I think it is a very important piece of work that needs to be done, and I would compel the Attorney-General to consider putting that on the to-do list if they were to form government or the opposition if they were to form government after this year’s election—that they would also consider having a whole update of the Crimes Act. So with those words I thank you.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 30/8/22