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.In relation to sexual abuse charges in each state and territory, the key difference between child sexual assault and adult sexual assault is that adult sexual assault is based on the absence of sexual consent, whereas in child sexual assault, the issue of consent is superseded by age of consent laws (Eade, 2003).In Tasmania and South Australia the age of consent is 17 years of age.
When an adult engages in sexual behaviour with someone below the age of consent, they are committing a criminal offence (child sexual abuse).
Age of consent laws cannot be considered in isolation to other legislation concerning issues such as sexual assault and child sexual abuse.
The widespread use of mobile phones has led to a number of legal interventions that attempt to protect children from sexual exploitation in online environments.
Sexting laws provide a good example of how digital sexual activity does not necessarily align with broader age of consent laws in Australia.
Recent sex education programs for children and young people aged below or at the age of consent have shifted from a dominantly risk-based paradigm to building knowledge and resilience, particularly with regard to contemporary matters such as digital technologies.
Public concern about young people's healthy sexual development now includes debates regarding their use of information and communication technologies, the majority of which are internet-enabled.
A person in a supervisory role providing "special care" may include: a teacher, foster parent, religious official or spiritual leader, a medical practitioner, an employer of the child or a custodial official.
For further information regarding sexual interaction with 16 and 17 years old under special care please see the relevant state or territory legislation.
The legal age for consensual sex varies across Australian state and territory jurisdictions (see Table 1).