Laws regarding legal dating ages
Gender and gender inequality also play a role in sexual consent. 1294) find that "adolescent sexual values, personal beliefs and expectations about sex are deeply shaped by gendered behaviours regulated by their peer and social environments." Coercion can be described as the peer pressure put on one child by another to achieve compliance (Ryan, 1997). The lower end may include implied authority, manipulation, trickery or bribery.
The top end of the continuum may include physical force, threats of harm and overt violence.
Age of consent laws are designed to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.
Such laws effectively determine that children and young people below the age of consent are yet to reach a level of general maturity enabling their safe participation in sexual activities.
A child may be willing to engage in sexual behaviour; however, as they do not have the decision-making capacity to give consent according to law, all sexual interactions between an adult and a person under the age of consent are considered abusive (Barbaree & Marshall, 2006).
The legal age for consensual sex varies across Australian state and territory jurisdictions (see Table 1).
Sexting laws provide a good example of how digital sexual activity does not necessarily align with broader age of consent laws in Australia.
For more information about young people and sexting, see Lawstuff and the Office of the Children's e Safety Commissioner.
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).
However, when both parties are close in age, identifying whether the sexual activity is abusive is more complex.
Ryan (1997) proposed three factors that must be considered in order to evaluate sexual interactions between two or more children: consent, equality and coercion.