In 1912, Louis Sullivan was convicted in a Perth court of ‘carnal knowledge of a girl under 16’ after Ila Collins told a court that he raped her. The conviction was overturned on appeal because the primary witnesses were Ila and her mother. At the time, the corroboration rule said testimony by women or children could not convict a man of rape unless it could be substantiated by other evidence or a man’s testimony.
In 2015, Luke Lazarus was convicted in a Sydney court of ‘sexual assault without consent’ after Saxon Mullins told a court he raped her. The conviction was overturned on appeal because although Saxon did not consent, at the time a man could not be convicted of rape unless the prosecution could prove he knew she didn’t consent.
In the more than a hundred years between Ila Collins and Saxon Mullins—and in the years since then—there have been hundreds of law reform commissions, inquiries, reports and research papers on rape law in Australia. Every jurisdiction has made considerable changes to legislation, rules of evidence, instructions from the judge, and legal definitions.
Reform has removed the corroboration requirement, excluded marriage as a defence to rape, (mostly) abolished the defence’s ability to question a rape victim about her sexual history, prevented accused rapists questioning their victims in court, removed and reintroduced consent to the definition of rape, renamed rape as ‘sexual assault’, and introduced affirmative consent to the definition of sexual assault.
So much has changed. And yet …
Both Saxon Mullins and Ila Collins were still quite young when they were testifying in court. Saxon was 20 years old; Ila was only 13. They were both sympathetic witnesses in cases that featured prominently in the media. Both trials and subsequent appeals generated debate about failures in the law that allowed the convictions to be overturned. Both girls cried when they testified about how scared they were of the men who attacked them. Both men denied the girls were scared. Defence lawyers in both trials suggested, with no evidence, that revenge was a motive for the allegations. Judges in both appeals said the girls were credible witnesses who were likely telling the truth about what happened to them but found reasons to rule that truth was not enough to maintain the convictions. Neither of the men were charged with rape, although that is the most accurate word to describe the acts for which they went on trial. Drinking alcohol was used to attack the credibility of the women, but not the men, in both trials. Both girls were unusual for their time, in that police believed them, prosecutors acted for them, and juries convicted for them.
In both Saxon’s and Ila’s lifetimes, rape was the least reported, investigated, charged, tried and convicted of any crime in the country. Mostly because of the persistent belief that women lie about rape.
• • •
Colonised Australia inherited most of its law from England, where, historically, rape was a crime against property. The first mention of it in English law was in 1285, when abducting and marrying an heiress was criminalised. Fathers and husbands had dominion over their daughters and wives, who would be devalued if they were ‘defiled’. Ownership demands exclusivity.
By the nineteenth century, the legal system across the Commonwealth had widened the definition of rape to include all women, regardless of wealth, and began to view it as a crime against a person rather than property. Legislators, however, were determined that women of ‘ill-fame’ could not bring rape charges against men of ‘good character’ and specified that ‘the mere affirmative oath of the woman is rarely thought sufficient to convict’.
The doctrine of corroboration (specifically regarding testimony of women and children and almost solely applied in cases of sexual violence) was enshrined in English common law before the colonisation of Australia and was incorporated into statute in Western Australia in 1902.
During Louis Sullivan’s trial, Ila’s mother, Sarah Collins, testified that Ila had told her about the rapes. She also recounted his response when she told him Ila was pregnant. He said, ‘she cannot be … I never properly got into her’. Sarah’s evidence corroborated Ila’s testimony but was dismissed by the appellate judges because they deemed Sarah to be an untrustworthy witness. She was a single mother who claimed to be a widow so she could obtain a hotel licence, she liked to drink, and she was living in sin. No jury, the judges said, should have found her credible and thus she could not provide corroboration.
While it existed before his time, the doctrine of corroboration is often attributed to Sir Matthew Hale, a barrister, judge and strict Puritan, who sentenced at least two women to death for witchcraft in the mid-seventeenth century. Hale, like many pious misogynists, was deeply concerned about women being ‘malicious and false witnesses’ against men of ‘good character’. He described rape as ‘an accusation easily to be made and hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho never so innocent’. In 1973, this statement was described by a US appellate judge as ‘one of the most oft-quoted passages in our jurisprudence’.
When the offence ‘carnal knowledge of a girl under 16’ was debated in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly in 1900, the all-male parliamentarians fretted that it would be employed by ‘hysterical’, ‘wanton’, ‘wicked’, ‘designing and libidinous’ women. Mr Wilson, the member for Canning, said during the debate, ‘We cannot close our eyes to the fact that there are many females who are so lost to all sense of what is right and just that they will not hesitate to beguile youths, and then issue an information, or perhaps threaten an information, with the object of levying blackmail’. The corroboration rule was duly written into the legislation two years after Ila Collins was born and 11 years later it was used to overturn the conviction of the man who raped her.
Matthew Hale was also the source of the common law rule (later legislated) that a man could not rape his wife because, he said, ‘by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife has given herself up in this kind to her husband, which she cannot retract’. South Australia, in 1977, was the first jurisdiction in Australia to abolish the marital exemption for rape. The Northern Territory was the last, in 1994. Opposition to the change was fierce. Fears about attacking the ‘important’ institution of marriage and creating opportunities for ‘vindictive wives’ were touted in every state and territory parliament.
Most work on reforming rape law started in the 1970s. Second-wave feminists firmly centred rape law as something that should protect women, not men. Gough Whitlam, after failing to legalise abortion, convened the Royal Commission on Human Relationships in 1974. Its remit was not just abortion, but also sex, rape, justice, consent, marriage, divorce, homosexuality, and how we teach effective sex education in schools. The five-volume report is devastating reading. Partly because so much has changed. Mostly because so little has changed.
The royal commission’s report and recommendations on rape explained a language shift never mentioned in modern inquiries into rape: why did we stop calling it rape and start calling it sexual assault? Sex and rape are vastly different things, regardless of the physical act. The gulf that divides sex and rape is consent. Why would we make the language similar when doing so blurs that divide and thereby minimises the importance of consent?
The royal commission report stated that the language shift was deliberate. The intention was to remove consent from the definition of rape so that rape trials would focus only on the actions of the accused, rather than the victim. Rape, at the time, was assumed to be always a physically violent crime, so they wanted it tried in the same way as any other assault, where consent is never an issue.
Recommendation 27 said, ‘The existing offence of rape should be abolished and should be replaced by a series of offences … and consent should be irrelevant in relation to offences involving the use of violence, threats, false pretences or drugs.’ The offences the report recommended were called ‘sexual assault’. Using ‘sexual assault’ language instead of rape is talking about rape with its defining characteristic—consent—removed.
The royal commission’s reasons for recommending this change were the same as those given in every law reform inquiry since the 1970s. Rape was frighteningly common and rarely reported to police. Rape trials were excruciating because they almost always put the victim on trial rather than the rapist, and that trial usually became a test of her character and worth, not her evidence. Consent was understood to be something women could withhold, and men could assume. Trials proceeded on that basis.
The thinking at the time was that removing consent from the definition of rape would remove women’s perceived responsibility for the actions of rapists. It didn’t work. Relying solely on physical injuries could not change rape conviction rates. Many women were too afraid of their rapist to fight and earn enough bruises to win a guilty verdict. They couldn’t show physical injuries if alcohol was the weapon used to incapacitate them rather than physical violence, or if they were too afraid of their rapist to go to hospital, or if they were threatened, coerced, or even pressured into silence. Then, as now, rapists were most commonly intimate partners, followed (at a distant second) by casual acquaintances. Stranger danger plays well in tabloid headlines and procedural crime shows, but it’s rare in real life. Women are far more likely to be injured in a car accident while driving home than they are to be attacked by a stranger if they choose to walk.
No-one runs a ‘but he wanted it’ defence to a punch in the head, because such actions are inherently criminal (unless in self-defence). Consensual sex between adults is not a crime. Consent was still the key to proving rape, and it was reintroduced as the primary focus of sexual assault and rape law in the 1990s and early 2000s.
There were variations across jurisdictions in the definitions and proof required. Even in 2022, Queensland and Western Australia still maintain the notorious ‘mistake of fact’ defence—where a rapist’s claim that he believed the victim consented does not have to be reasonable, it just has to be stated. In July 2022, the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce in Queensland recommended rescinding the mistake of fact defence. Chair Margaret McMurdo said, in a statement that could have been lifted directly from the 1977 report of the royal commission, ‘Victim-survivors told us they want changes to the law about sexual assault so the focus is on the actions of the accused person, not what the victim said, did, drank or wore.’
There are still inconsistent definitions between states. Some, such as Victoria and South Australia, have an objective test of consent (is the belief reasonable) rather than the subjective test (did the rapist believe it) that existed in New South Wales and the territories. Tasmania introduced an affirmative consent model in 2004, meaning ‘she didn’t say no’ is not a defence, consent must be positively communicated.
In 2007, Saxon Mullins was 12 years old, the same age Ila Collins was when she was raped by Louis Sullivan. That was the year New South Wales introduced a legislated definition of consent, in the hope it would lead to greater fairness in rape trials. Ten years later this legislation would be used to overturn the conviction of the man Saxon said had raped her.
Affirmative consent and mutual responsibility—where everyone involved in a sexual encounter has equal responsibility to ensure consent is free and voluntarily agreed at the time of the act—became the law in New South Wales in June 2022. Saxon Mullins, now the director of advocacy at the Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy Initiative, was the catalyst and the driving force that made this change possible.
Affirmative consent laws do not mean everyone is going to have to stop spontaneous intimacy to ask for a signed contract. It does mean everyone is going to have to think about whether the person they want to have sex with also wants to have sex with them. If they’re unsure, they’ll need to ask. A simple, ‘Do you like this?’ and caring about the answer is all it takes. Not, one would think, a particularly onerous burden.
For many men it will not be onerous. Optimism would tell us to believe this is even true of most men. The data on rape and sexual assault in Australia suggests otherwise. Police statistics show that just over 27,500 people reported being raped or sexually assaulted in 2020 and 93 per cent of them were women and children. The same percentage of reported offenders were men and boys.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) says only 13 per cent of people who’ve been sexually assaulted report it to police. (As outlined above, rape and sexual assault are blurred terms, particularly given that they have different legislative definitions across states. The ABS collects data from all states and territories, and therefore uses sexual assault as an umbrella term for rape, attempted rape, and non-penetrative sexual violence.)
Extrapolating those numbers shows that over 210,000 people were sexually assaulted in Australia, just in the year 2020. If you put those two MCGs side by side, they still wouldn’t hold all the victims from a single year.
ABS data also says that just over 2500 people were found guilty of rape and sexual assault in the year ending June 2021. If you had those two MCGs full of rape victims, you could almost fit all the convicted offenders into the two members’ bars. That would certainly be an interesting event to attend.
More than 50 years of law reform and endless fiddling with evidence, rules and tests of consent have barely moved the dial on these ratios. There is hope the new affirmative consent laws in New South Wales will force some movement, despite their failure to do so in the eight years they have been in force in Tasmania.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said, ‘these reforms are not just about holding perpetrators to account, but changing social behaviour’. Unlike earlier actors on law reform, Speakman listened to advocates such as Saxon Mullins, and instigated a public education campaign to support the reforms.
It is an effective campaign, but it may not go far enough. Men’s fears about duplicitous women harming them with false rape allegations did not fall away with parchment and quills. The idiom may have changed but the feelings remain the same.
The National Community Attitudes Survey (NCAS) is a national government–funded study of Australians’ understanding of and attitudes towards men’s violence against women. In 2017, just over 40 per cent of people agreed that ‘it is common for sexual assault allegations to be used as a way of getting back at men’. We might comfort ourselves with the thought that the majority (60 per cent) of people don’t think it’s common, but the problem with the NCAS results is that they’re a response to an impersonal question. Rape is always personal.
In 2021, the Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) released a qualitative study of Australians’ understanding of consent and rape. They gave participants written stories from a fictious female rape victim and male rapist, and asked which version was more believable. The participants struggled to come to a clear conclusion, but their questions were entirely focused on the woman’s actions, whether she said ‘no’, how forcefully she said it, whether she struggled enough to sustain visible physical injuries, or made enough effort to ensure the man who raped her could understand she said no and meant it. As one participant commented, ‘if she was just to say no, the guy might be thinking that it’s just part of the foreplay’. Almost no-one asked what the man had done to establish consent, whether he had asked her, stopped to check, paid attention to what she said or her body’s response. Rape is still seen as a thing a woman fails to prevent rather than something a man chooses to do.
After wrestling with the question of believability for some time, one man in the study joked, ‘chuck her on a lie detector’. So symbolic was this comment of widespread distrust of women that it became the name of the report.
• • •
Men no longer own women, as they did when rape was first criminalised in the thirteenth century. Ownership, however, is an intangible thing. Dr Rachel Hogg, a psychology lecturer at Charles Sturt University, says there is a connection between consent and ownership. ‘How we think about our bodies and ownership is highly gendered,’ she says. ‘Men have no doubt about owning their own bodies. Their body is theirs to fully inhabit. Women’s bodies are not seen as belonging solely to themselves in the same way and much of the law you’re talking about is based on that belief. Criminalising abortion, for instance, is part of believing a woman’s body is not her own. Rape and consent are tied up in that too.’ Hogg’s contention is evidenced in how often women’s bodies are judged and found wanting when they fail to meet youth and beauty standards that appeal to men, rather than the useful and purposeful standards applied to men’s bodies. It shows in the records of harassment on Australia’s streets, where research by the Australia Institute shows almost 90 per cent of women have been followed, groped, touched, or subjected to lewd comments in public places by men they didn’t know. One-quarter of them said they were threatened after rejecting sexual advances from a stranger.
The connection between body ownership and consent is also evident in the way straight men respond to the idea of non-consensual sexualised touch by other men. If it were not so homophobic, teaching young men to understand consent would be simple: behave to everyone in the same way you would want homosexual men to treat you in a gay bar.
Of the thousands of Australian and international reports on rape law reform produced in the past decade, there are almost none that do not mention rape myths. This collection of commonly held but erroneous assumptions about sex and rape permeates rape trials and investigations.
Rape myths say that ‘real rape’ only happens when an innocent, demurely dressed young girl is violently attacked by a stranger. She screams, fights back, suffers obvious physical injuries, immediately reports to police, remembers every detail in its exact chronological order, and never strays from her first recounting of the offence. She cries when she talks about the rape but is never angry. She has no connection to the rapist and no male partner from whom she needs to hide an indiscretion. She is tearful but brave in court and her rapist is convicted. That girl was ‘genuinely’ raped and good men are enraged on her behalf. Rape myths say that any deviation from this script is not ‘real rape’ and is therefore suspect.
Defence lawyers use tactics to appeal to a jury’s acceptance of rape myths when they present their case. They persistently deny they do this, and scholars just as persistently release research papers based on rape trial transcripts proving that they do.
Mitchell Peggie was acquitted of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in Brisbane in 2014. Five days later he raped a 21-year-old woman on their first date. During Peggie’s second trial, his defence lawyer showed the court a photo of the bra and underpants the woman was wearing the night she was raped, asking why she was wearing ‘sexy lingerie’ if she didn’t intend to have sex. He put it to her that the flirty text she exchanged with Peggie showed her ‘acceptance’ that they would have sex, despite several messages in which she had explicitly said she had no such intention. He asked, ‘what did you think was going to happen?’ when she testified that she agreed to go for a walk with Peggie and accused her of ‘moaning’ and ‘gasping’ with pleasure during the rape. He suggested to the woman that she was a liar who made up claims of rape because she felt Peggie didn’t treat her ‘nicely’ after consensual public sex. Notwithstanding what was described by people in the court as a ‘long and gruelling’ cross-examination, the woman, only 21 years old, held to her testimony and Peggie was convicted. He appealed on the mistake of fact defence, which was, remarkably, denied. He would have been eligible for parole in January 2020.
Women who have been raped commonly describe rape trials as ‘traumatic’ and ‘humiliating’. One woman interviewed for this essay said it ‘felt like more of a violation than the rape itself’. Another described it as ‘like being tortured, but with an audience’.
Like little Ila Collins, these women must sit in court and describe every detail of their rape to silent strangers, while a defence barrister interrupts, talks over them, accuses them of lying, and implies they are sluts who asked for it.
Research published in the British Journal of Criminology compared the tactics used by defence lawyers cross-examining rape victims in New South Wales in the 1950s to those used in trials in New Zealand in the early 2000s. Over that time, New Zealand had implemented reforms to legislation and rules of evidence that were comparable to the ones in Australia. The researchers found that defence lawyers leaned strongly into rape myths and that ‘contemporary cross-examinations are more wide ranging and perhaps somewhat longer than those conducted historically’, but were otherwise very similar. The researchers wrote that this was not surprising, given that ‘many jurors believe these misconceptions about rape’ and the strength of these beliefs had not changed since the 1950s.
This is the very core of the problem. Law reform and tweaking the trial process are Sisyphean toiling if underlying attitudes don’t change. And they don’t change in a courtroom. The role of the justice system is to reflect the attitudes of the community, not amend them. That has to happen outside the courtroom. It must happen where potential jurors live. It must also happen where potential rapists live. It must happen over the dinner table in private homes and in workplaces and sports clubs. It must happen on TV shows and social media feeds and news sites. In churches and pubs and dog parks and barber shops. Most of all, it must happen in schools.
The 1977 report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships investigated sex and relationship education in schools and found it profoundly wanting. In another quote that could have been lifted from anything written today, it said:
surveys in Australia and overseas on the sources of sexual knowledge show the influence of peers and their role in perpetuating misinformation, due mainly to lack of any other reliable source. There is a need for early and continuous sex education and for an educational program which will help young people to be responsible to themselves and to each other and to decide and act with knowledge, not in fear or ignorance.
Education reform in this area has been slow and patchy across all Australian states and territories and in private and public schools. Victoria led the way on reform, with a pilot program in 2014 and then a slow roll-out in all government schools, completed in 2021. There are more than 700 private schools in Victoria. Around half of them were teaching some version of the consent modules by 2021.
In February 2022, after overwhelming advocacy led by Chanel Contos, a unanimous agreement between state and federal ministers ensured the new national curriculum modules on consent will be mandatory in all public and private schools in Australia at the beginning of 2023. These modules, following Victoria’s lead, cover consent, power imbalance, gender stereotypes and coercion as part of the health and physical education program.
After almost seven years in Victoria, some teachers still struggle with the full curriculum on consent. This is no reflection on teachers. They do the work of psychologists, lawyers, nurses, police, parents, doctors, child-minders, comedians, family councillors, cyber experts and relationship therapists, and then they do their full-time job—they teach.
A 2021 Teachers Union survey of Queensland teachers and school leaders found around one-third had experienced gendered violence at work. Nearly half of those people said their students were the perpetrators.
Then there are the teachers who see the violence their students commit against each other. When Chanel Contos put out a call on Instagram in 2021 and received thousands of stories from Australian teenage girls about the boys who had raped them, only a very few teachers were shocked. ‘I’ve seen it too many times,’ says one secondary school teacher.
A bright, bubbly girl leaves on Friday afternoon, and she comes back on Monday, hunched over and silent. The kids all know what happened. You hear whispers, and comments. Sometimes the girl will tell you what happened, sometimes you hear rumours about who did it, but none of them will go to the police. And you can’t report a rumour to the cops. If you tell his parents, they get furious and threaten to sue. If you talk to him, he tells his parents and they threaten to sue. There is just nothing we can do.
The interview stopped there. The teacher was crying too much to continue.
A different teacher, a different interview. She teaches a senior secondary school class where one of her students was accused of raping a teacher. It was reported to police but has not progressed any further and the accused boy has the right to complete his education. ‘He scares me,’ she says.
He knows I know [the teacher who accused him of rape]. Sometimes he tries to stand too close to me. He’s very tall and he looms over me. He doesn’t ever do anything I can point to or report him for, but he knows I’m scared of him. I think he likes it.
This interview was also ended because this teacher too could not stop crying. This is an extreme example, but many teachers are rightly concerned about the national rollout of a new and deeply complex topic.
Physical education teachers will have to answer questions about pornography, image-based abuse, sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, technology-facilitated abuse and gendered violence. They will almost certainly hear disclosures from students about experiencing or perpetrating such acts and will have to know how to respond. They will have to do so if they believe rape myths themselves. They will have to do so if they have been raped or even if they have committed rape. They will have to know how to counter resistance from students who have grown up with rape myths and never been taught to question them. They will have to explain many of the topics covered in this essay. And at the time of writing, there is no information available about the training or support they will be given to do so. There will, inevitably, be times when this goes catastrophically awry.
This is not to suggest a comprehensive national consent education scheme shouldn’t go ahead. Indeed, it must. It is the only hope of preventing another story like that of Ila Collins or Saxon Mullins occurring in another hundred years. Hope, however, must be tempered by realistic expectations.
It will take years to embed thorough consent education across all year levels in the more than 10,000 schools in Australia. In time, we might hope, it will be a specialist subject delivered by well-trained experts, in the same way that maths, science and art teachers are trained and teach now. But that change could take decades to introduce and implement. It will take yet more decades for children taught by those teachers to grow up and take on leadership roles needed to debunk tenacious rape myths in politics, the law, education, media, sport, religion and entertainment.
Education, then, is a long-term solution. What do we do for the two annual MCGs full of rape victims in the meantime? Saxon Mullins has said she believes the introduction of the affirmative consent rule will make a difference in New South Wales, not just because of the law reform but because of the concurrent public and school-based education on consent. Victoria is planning similar changes and public campaigns for 2023. Most other states are considering recommendations to follow their lead.
Public debate was ramped up by former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, the courage of Brittany Higgins and the advocacy of Chanel Contos. All of which followed the global MeToo movement and has put unprecedented public focus on understanding consent. There is great cause for hope.
Barriers to change are built into the legal system. Every accused has a right to the presumption of innocence. They have the right to test the evidence against them, not to incriminate themselves, not to carry the burden of proof, and to have the standard of proof set at beyond a reasonable doubt. The bar is very high. As it should be.
In any criminal case the state has enormous power over an accused. They have a police force to investigate, an entire department of lawyers to manage prosecution, and, if the accused is found guilty, the state has the power to incarcerate them. The accused is given rights to redress this power imbalance. Undermining any of those rights could be catastrophic, particularly for people already suffering deeply under power imbalances: First Nations peoples, people with mental illness, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities—all of whom are already disproportionately imprisoned in Australia. We do not fix one injustice by creating more injustice.
Another often-repeated quote in jurisprudence (attributed to William Blackstone in 1769, although the principle dates back to ancient Rome) is that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted.
What happens though when ten guilty rapists go free? What happens when communities see ten rape victims disempowered, disbelieved and demoralised, while the rapist is the only one with any power? What if there is no resolution to this question in the legal system? Perhaps, with all the protections necessarily given to the accused, the criminal justice system is simply not fit for purpose in this particular crime. Restorative justice alternatives are an obvious solution. We might learn something from the wisdom and leadership First Nations peoples have taken in this space.
This form of justice is not enacted with adversarial hearings and state punishments. It is a managed forum for healing, where someone who has been wronged can face the wrongdoer, explain the impact of the wrong that was done, and ask for recognition, acknowledgement and apology. Done properly, restorative justice is victim-centred and trauma-informed, and the outcome is meant to be educative for the perpetrator rather than punitive. There are no grave consequences he must face, other than understanding and taking ownership of what his action and choices did to another person.
There are risks involved in this approach—pressure on victims to take this route rather than a legal one, punitive or victim-blaming attitudes creeping in and causing more harm, mishandling leading to escalation of injuries rather than change. All these things are significant risks. But these things are happening now, too often and too much.
This is not to suggest that rape as a crime should be abolished. There are undoubtedly occasions where the criminal justice system is best placed to deal with offenders. But for people who want another option, or for youth offenders—and one in five rapists reported to police for rape are under 19 years old—acknowledgement and prevention education may be more effective than a police refusal to investigate or an acquittal at trial.
Certainly, something must fill the gap between the injustice of doing nothing and the injustices built into the legal system that so terribly fails victims of rape.
• • •
Ila Collins gave birth to a child in 1913, the year Louis Sullivan’s conviction for raping her was overturned. That child died in 2013, the year Saxon Mullins said she was raped in Sydney. The connections between Ila and Saxon are coincidental but not meaningless.
Apart from news reports of the trial and acquittal, the only public records of Ila Collins show she lived the best life available to a woman of her time. She married, had children, and died much mourned by her family. Nothing else of her was reported.
Just over 100 years later, Saxon Mullins took ownership of her story and has, at the age of 26, already built a legacy that will last well beyond her lifetime. She will always be the woman who drove and led legislative reform on consent in Australia in 2022.
If, one day in 2113, someone is writing a story about how Australia turned rape into something rare, always taken seriously, and where rape victims are never left alone with nothing done to give consequences to their rapist, they will mention Saxon Mullins’ name and her role in making that change.
I wish I could be there to read it. •
Jane Gilmore is an Australian writer, journalist, and consent educator. Her book Teaching Consent: Real Voices from the Consent Classroom was published in 2022. See <www.JaneGilmore.com>.