Legal dating age restrictions
Sexting laws provide a good example of how digital sexual activity does not necessarily align with broader age of consent laws in Australia.Mc Lelland (2016, p.4) points out that, "in many jurisdictions provisions aimed at protecting young people from sexual predation and exploitation can also be used to criminalise and prosecute the sexual self-expression of those under the age of 18" - even when the young person is at the age of consent.For further information regarding sexual interaction with 16 and 17 years old under special care please see the relevant state or territory legislation.It is a common and normal part of sexual development for young people to explore and experiment in sexual interactions with their peers (Araji, 2004; Barbaree & Marshall, 2006; Eade, 2003).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.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 are designed to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.
Recent sex education programs for children and young people aged below or at the age of consent have shifted from a dominantly risk-based paradigm to building knowledge and resilience, particularly with regard to contemporary matters such as digital technologies.
Sexual interaction that is harmful and abusive between two young people under the legal age can be difficult to identify and determine.
In situations where there is a clear age difference - for example a teenager and a young child - any sexual interaction is sexual abuse, as there is a definite power imbalance.
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.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger call Police on 000. Information is current up to the date of publication.Although the legal age of consent throughout Australia is either 16 or 17 years of age, legislation in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory makes it an offence for a person in a supervisory role to sexually engage with a person under their special care who is aged 16 or 17 years.