By Stephanie Roper
SYDNEY — The NSW Labor government recently proposed amendments to legislation to require the mandatory reporting of consensual sex between young people under the legal age of consent. The change is part of the proposed Children (Care and Protection) Act, and would apply to both heterosexual and gay or lesbian sex.
In New South Wales, the age of consent for gay male sex is 18. It is 16 for all other forms of consensual sex.
The law currently states that young people who are at risk or have disclosed that they are or have been sexually abused or assaulted must be reported to the Department of Community Services. The changes are supposed to further "weed out paedophiles", a claim disproved by the focus of the changes on consensual sex between young people.
The fact that such a law is even considered demonstrates the government's perception that young people do not have the right to privacy, confidentiality and adequate health care, and that they are incapable of exercising any control over their sexuality.
The law would be an undercover way of criminalising homosexuality. The fear of paedophilia, which is wrongly yet constantly blamed on gay men, has led to gay sexual relationships commonly being labelled perverse. The new law would reinforce such stereotypes.
Under the proposed changes, gay and lesbian young people can expect to be reported far more than their peers in heterosexual relationships — both because of the homophobia that is rife in schools and society generally, and because of the unequal age of consent laws for heterosexual and homosexual sex.
A further implication of such a law would be to deter young people from seeking necessary sexual health care and contraception for fear of being reported. This would have a disproportionate impact on young women, who still bear the main responsibility for contraception.
Young women are actively discouraged from having healthy sexual relationships and are told that "nice girls don't enjoy sex". This law reinforces the notion that young women are unable to make decisions regarding their sexuality.
Young people have been denied information about this legislation, because welfare organisations were fearful that it would prevent them from accessing the services they need. This lack of information, however, has again denied young people the ability to fight against laws that impact upon them.
If the government really had a commitment to preventing young people from experiencing sexual abuse, it would be looking to reform the structures of society which ensure that young people are economically, politically and legally powerless. It would not be entrenching that powerlessness by further violating young people's right to control their bodies.
[Stephanie Roper is a youth worker working with survivors of sexual violence and a Resistance activist. She is the Democratic Socialists' candidate for the seat of Strathfield in next March's NSW election.]