A petition with 12,177 signatures calling for consent law reform in New Zealand has been presented to the Government.

Petition creator Layba Zubair handed it to Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence Marama Davidson and representatives of the Labour, National and ACT parties today.

The NZ Crimes Act 1961 currently only defines in what circumstances a person cannot give consent, such as being asleep or threatened. 

The petition calls for the Government to reform the law to include a clear definition of what consent is, and a legal acknowledgement that sexual acts require mutual, enthusiastic consent every time.

Zubair says she started the petition because the legal system had made her feel alone and like she was overreacting as a survivor of sexual assault.

“But now I know that I'm not alone in my hardship. And I know that because 12,000 people who signed agreed with me. They agree with me when I say that right now, the definition of consent in our current laws does not reflect the need for free and voluntary agreement at the time of the act.”

There are three key areas that need reforming, Zubair says:

  • A legal definition for consent
  • The introduction of a legal age at which you can give consent
  • Legal acknowledgement that consent needs to be mutually given for sexual acts to be lawful.

There has also been a movement towards introducing mandatory consent education in schools. Zubair thinks this is crucial, but believes the Government must first set a legal definition for consent which can then be taught in schools.

Thursdays in Black is a national campaign to prevent sexual violence in tertiary education spaces. 

Co-president of the Victoria University chapter Kate Schellekens shared her experience of navigating the current consent laws at the petition presentation.

“I have personally been to the police with a sexual violence claim and I know that having consent defined in the law would make all the difference to proving that I did not consent.

“Talking to police is already a traumatic process. And with so little security from the law, it was daunting to go into a situation like that, wanting justice, but knowing that there was not much to legally back me up.”

Fellow co-president Maia Campbell says law reform will allow students to hold universities more accountable.

“Institutions like universities are pretty poor at handling sexual violence. They seem more concerned with protecting their reputation than protecting students who have experienced harm.”

Speaking at the presentation, Marama Davidson said she fully supports creating legal definitions of clear and positive consent.

“I too echo the call that it is ludicrous that what we are currently sharing and talking about in schools when it comes to healthy relationships and consent does not at all match up with how the legislation rolls out. That is unacceptable.”

The call for consent law reform was also supported at the presentation by previous Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard, National MP Chris Penk, Labour MP Dr Emily Henderson, and ACT MP Nicole McKee.

The petition presenters asked for work on this reform to begin before next year’s election.

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