When an adult engages in sexual behaviour with someone below the age of consent, they are committing a criminal offence (child sexual abuse).
If you are a young person seeking advice on sexual relations please refer to some of the following websites: Age of consent laws attempt to strike a balance between protecting children and young people from exploitation and other harms, and preserving their right to privacy and healthy sexual development.
Young people at the age of consent are viewed by law to have general sexual competence to enforce personal boundaries and negotiate the risks involved in sexual activities.
The state jurisdictions that provide a legal defence when the sexual interaction is between two young people close in age (Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory) are attempting to find a balance that protects children and young people from adult sexual exploitation in a way that does not criminalise them for having sexual relationships with their peers.
Sexual interaction that is harmful and abusive between two young people under the legal age can be difficult to identify and determine.
The legal age for consensual sex varies across Australian state and territory jurisdictions (see Table 1).
The age of consent is 16 years of age in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
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.
In Tasmania and South Australia the age of consent is 17 years of age.
Although the legal age of consent throughout Australia is either 16 or 17 years of age, legislation in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory makes it an offence for a person in a supervisory role to sexually engage with a person under their special care who is aged 16 or 17 years.
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.