Narratives of consent in rape trials in Victoria

R. Burgin

PhD Candidate, Monash University,

The communicative model of consent is premised on the notion that consent should be expressed through actions and/or words and thus is an ongoing process, given in specific circumstances, which can be revoked at any time. This model, implied in the current law governing sexual assault in Victoria and evident in both socially and legally constructed behavioural standards across a range of jurisdictions, stands in stark contrast to historical understandings of consent based on narratives of ‘no means no’, and the assumption that consent is essentially presumed, unless and until it is taken away.

The model of communicative consent has been contentiously heralded as a legal advancement of women’s sexual autonomy, however reporting rates for sexual assault remain low, and convictions difficult to obtain. This paper presents preliminary findings from a research project that traces the ways in which this model of consent has been conceptualised and then translated in practice in legal and social policy. Drawing from a selection of Victorian rape trial transcripts, this paper examines how this standard of consent has been interpreted by legal actors in the courtroom, and the consequences of this on the key parties to the rape, namely the victim and accused.


Rachael Burgin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Criminology within the School of Social Sciences at Monash University. Her research examines the role of consent in rape trials in Victoria.


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