Victorian sex crimes detective says consent within teenage relationships a major problem

A leading detective with Melbourne’s sexual offences investigation team says the issue of sexual consent within teenage relationships is a major problem, with many young people believing they can’t say no to their partner’s demands.

Detective Senior Sergeant Ben Jarman said that there were many common misconceptions about sexual offending and encouraged those who believed they had been assaulted to speak to police even if the alleged offences were historical.

Detective Senior Sergeant Ben Jarman, who works with the sexual offences and child abuse investigation team. Credit:Justin McManus

“There’s a lot of this in regards to consent, especially in terms of sexual intercourse and relationships. Young people, or any person in fact, but especially in young people, not understanding consent is an ongoing thing,” he said.

“You need consent every single time an interaction happens, and it is ongoing. So a person can actually withdraw their consent during the intercourse or the sexual act.

“A person has the right and the ability to withdraw consent every time. And you’ve got to respect that person’s right when they do withdraw that consent. Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that the person is always consenting.”

Crowds at the Melbourne March 4 Justice on Monday protested sexual assault and harassment.Credit:Eddie Jim

Detective Senior Sergeant Jarman, a detective of 14 years who has spent the past five with the sexual offences and child abuse investigation squad, welcomed the recent discussions sparked by a petition created by Sydney woman Chanel Contos, calling for better and earlier sex education for young people.

The petition revealed thousands of sexual assault claims, including from former and current Melbourne students, and prompted a national conversation about rape culture.

Principals from a number of Victorian schools have issued letters to parents in recent weeks to address concerns about issues of sexual harassment, assault and consent.

This week, more than a dozen Wesley College students and parents disclosed instances of alleged sexual assault, harassment and disrespect to girls by male students, several days after boys in Wesley uniforms were heard making loud misogynistic comments following the Melbourne women’s March 4 Justice.

Detective Senior Sergeant Jarman said education was critically important for all students. Teaching young people what constitutes sexual consent also helps them develop healthy ideas about relationships, and can help them identify whether they have been the victim of sexual offending, he said.

“Education to the potential victims in these incidences [means] having that knowledge that what they might have experienced is actually a crime,” he said.

”If they’re in a relationship, it can be ongoing for that one person in terms of multiple occasions over a long period of time that they’re not consenting. And this can have a really traumatic effect on the person, especially when they’re developing and understanding what relationships are and what a good relationship is. I think that’s really important that they understand.”

Police in NSW have been liaising with schools and the NSW Education Department to determine how it will respond to thousands of sexual assault claims raised in the petition.

The head of the NSW sex crimes squad, Stacey Maloney, earlier this month told a group of independent school principals to encourage student sexual assault victims to come forward, even if they decide against pursuing criminal charges.

Detective Senior Sergeant Jarman echoed her calls and encouraged people to report to police, even if it wasn’t a recent incident. He said specialised detectives are able to have an initial chat with the victim, who can then decide if and when they want to make a formal statement.

“I think telling their story is important. The victim would be informed that they don’t have to make a complaint or a statement at that time. They do have time to tell their story. That can be a matter of delaying that for a couple of days. Or it could be in fact, delaying it for a couple of years … There’s no one way of reporting.

“People do take comfort that they’ve reported their story to police and police are aware of the allegation. And we can act on that at a later date if that victim wants to.”

If you or anyone you know needs support call the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence hotline on 1800 737 732

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