Meanings of 'sex' and 'consent': the persistence of rape myths in Victorian rape law Academic Article uri icon


  • Since the 1980s, laws regulating the meaning and interpretation of sexual consent have been substantially reformed across Australian and international jurisdictions. Of particular note in an Australian context are the significant changes to the definition of consent introduced in Victoria in 2006 and 2007, which were informed primarily by the Victorian Law Reform Commissionʼs review of legislative provisions relating to sexual offences. In this article, we explore the persistence of traditional rape discourses in the courtroom following the 2007 Victorian reforms by examining meanings of ʻsexʼ and ʻconsentʼ in a pilot sample of rape trials. Our analysis suggests that although deeply entrenched societal myths or discourses about rape continue to pervade Victorian courtrooms, there is some evidence of a shift towards a legal focus on the accusedʼs state of mind, in addition to that of the victim-complainant. This shift, however, is only prominent in cases in which the accused testifies. In light of these preliminary findings, we suggest that further comparative analyses of the qualitative impact of law reform on discursive constructions of ʻsexʼ and ʻconsentʼ in rape trials may provide alternative measures of the impact of rape law reform.

publication date

  • 2013