Four areas of knowledge are required in order to give consent: understanding of what the physical act(s) involve, their meaning, society's laws and cultural norms, and possible consequences (Mc Carthy & Thompson, 2004).
According to theoretical and practical understandings of consent, those key elements include: Equality relates to the balance of power and control between those involved in sexual activities.
The state jurisdictions that provide a legal defence when the sexual interaction is between two young people close in age (Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory) are attempting to find a balance that protects children and young people from adult sexual exploitation in a way that does not criminalise them for having sexual relationships with their peers.
Sexual interaction that is harmful and abusive between two young people under the legal age can be difficult to identify and determine.
The legal age for consensual sex varies across Australian state and territory jurisdictions (see Table 1).
The age of consent is 16 years of age in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
Young people at the age of consent are viewed by law to have general sexual competence to enforce personal boundaries and negotiate the risks involved in sexual activities.
For more information about the legislation concerning these issues, see the report (Quadara, Nagy, Higgins, & Siegel, 2015).
Age of consent laws are designed to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.
When an adult engages in sexual behaviour with someone below the age of consent, they are committing a criminal offence (child sexual abuse).
Age of consent laws cannot be considered in isolation to other legislation concerning issues such as sexual assault and child sexual abuse.