It’s time for an affirmative consent law
In Scotland, the number of recorded cases of rape and attempted rape have more than doubled in a decade from 2010 to 2020. Alarmingly, sexual crimes have been on a long-term upward trend, increasing every year since 2008-09, and are at the highest level seen since 1971, which was the first year comparable crime groups are available.
Under the current law, the onus is on the survivor and prosecution to prove that consent was not given. Many survivors of sexual abuse and rape find the process of reporting and taking a case to court deeply distressing as they are questioned on their behaviour, sexual history, clothing and subject to searches of their social media and private messages. Many survivors are further ‘victim-blamed’ as they are asked why they did not resist more, or shout for help.
At our conference in October this year, the Women’s Equality Party voted to make a policy for affirmative consent and is now campaigning to change the law.
An affirmative consent law would mean the defence must prove that the suspect had actively sought and received consent. Under the current law in Scotland, someone can consent to sexual activity only if it is ‘freely given’ and they have the capacity to make that choice. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time.
Silence, not saying “no”, or lack of resistance does not mean yes. Under an affirmative consent law, only “yes” means “yes”. The onus would no longer be on the survivor to prove they did not consent.
But changing the law on its own is not enough. We need a cultural shift too. Along with an affirmative consent law, we must educate our young people on affirmative and freely-given consent through comprehensive and inclusive relationships and sex education in schools.
The Women’s Equality Party is calling on the Westminster and Holyrood governments to introduce affirmative consent laws. We will never end violence against women and girls until women can get justice, and we will never achieve equality until we end violence against women.
The Women's Equality Party (WEP) is pushing for equal representation in politics, business, industry, and throughout working and personal life. This includes campaigning to end violence against women. To join WEP or donate to their cause follow this link: https://www.womensequality.org.uk/
Disclaimer: the views expressed in this post are those of the respective author and are not necessarily shared by the #ChangeHerStory Campaign partners.