5. Circumstances in which people justify non-consensual sex
In the 2017 NCAS two scenarios were introduced to investigate whether or not Australians would justify non-consensual sex in different circumstances. Scenarios were used to test two questions:
- Are Australians more likely to justify non-consensual sex among a married couple (a context in which people sometimes believe women forgo their sexual autonomy), as opposed to people that just met?
- Are Australians more likely to justify non-consensual sex in a circumstance where a woman had initiated intimacy as opposed to when she did not? This tests the belief that once a woman consents to one element of sexual expression, she is automatically consenting to any further sexual activity.
Both scenarios describe criminal offences.
These findings are significant because they indicate that a concerning proportion of Australians are unclear about what constitutes consent, and the line between consensual sex and coercion1. Non-consensual sex can range from rape or coerced sex, to non-consensual acts within an initially consensual sexual encounter.
Few Australians (3-4%) are prepared to justify non-consensual sex, regardless of whether the couple are married or just met.
Australians are more likely to justify non-consensual sex if the woman initiates intimacy, with 13-15% doing so in this circumstance.
Gendered power dynamics, expectations and stereotypes related to sexuality influence how consent is understood and negotiated (e.g. men are seen as sexually aggressive, or ‘in control’, while women are often portrayed as passive or submissive in sexual matters). These dynamics and expectations can contribute to some people failing to see the need to gain consent or to recognise that consent must always be an ongoing and respectful process of negotiation. Ensuring ongoing positive consent is important as people have the right to change their minds, or the situation may change to one where they are no longer comfortable.
Muehlenhard, C. L., Humphreys, T. P., Jozkowski, K. N., & Peterson, Z. D. (2016). The complexities of sexual consent among college students: A conceptual and empirical review. The Journal of Sex Research, 53(4-5), 457-487.
Warren, P., Swan, S., & Allen, C. T. (2015). Comprehension of sexual consent as a key factor in the perpetration of sexual aggression among college men. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 24, 897-913.