If you require assistance or would like to talk to a trained professional about the issues described in this paper, please call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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Age of consent laws are designed to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.
Such laws effectively determine that children and young people below the age of consent do not have the emotional maturity to consent to sexual activities.
In relation to sexual abuse charges in each state and territory, the key difference between child sexual assault and adult sexual assault is that adult sexual assault is based on the absence of sexual consent, whereas in child sexual assault, the issue of consent is superseded by age of consent laws (Eade, 2003).
An important distinction should be made between "willingness" and "consent".
A child may be willing to engage in sexual behaviour; however, as they do not have the psychological capacity to give consent according to law, all sexual interactions between an adult and a person under the age of consent are considered abusive (Barbaree & Marshall, 2006).
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, Victoria and Western Australia.
If you are a young person seeking advice on sexual relations please refer to some of the following websites: According to criminal law in Australia, the age of consent refers to the age a person is considered to be capable of legally giving informed consent to sexual acts with another person.
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.
For more information about the legislation concerning these issues, see the report (Quadara, Nagy, Higgins, & Siegel, 2015).