Rape campaigners welcome plans for legislation defining sexual consent

Rape Crisis Network Ireland executive director says consent is the dividing line between sex and sexual violence

Campaigners have welcome reports indicating a definition of sexual consent is set to be introduced into Irish law for the first time.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald has signalled the definition will be introduced in an amendment to the Sexual Offences Bill.

The move follows yesterday’s clarification from the Supreme Court on the issue of consent.

The seven-judge panel delivered a lengthy judgement on the issue yesterday, following an appeal by a man who was convicted of raping his mother.

The man claimed she had consented however his appeal has now been dismissed.

Currently under Irish law, consent has been defined by the courts rather than by legislation.

The law states that rape has occurred if a party was aware, or was reckless as to whether a victim has consented.

The Supreme Court ruling outlined how the law currently allows for the defence of “honest belief” on the part of the accused that the victim had consented.

It says the presence or absence of “reasonable grounds for such a belief” is something a jury should consider.

However the court confirmed that consent cannot exist if a victim, for any reason, is not in a condition to give it.

Cliona Saidlear, executive director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) said consent is what differentiates sex from sexual violence.

“It is the fulcrum on which everything turns and we don’t have a definition of it,” she said.

Ms Saidlear said a clear definition would “set the bar” in terms of what we as a society believe constitutes consent:

Other jurisdictions, including England, have already introduced legal definitions for consent.

English law says that a woman has not consented if she was too affected by alcohol or drugs to agree freely to sexual activity.