Sexual Offences in the Commonwealth: Issues, Good Practice & Advances in Reform

This Legal Snapshot surveys the landscape of Commonwealth sexual offences legislation, examines discriminatory elements and patterns, identifies measurable indicators of good practice, and explores how effective law reform has been achieved in practice recently.

Produced in May 2021, this Legal Snapshot focuses on sexual offence laws in the Commonwealth. The snapshot is split into three sections focusing on Discriminatory Sexual Offence Laws, Good Practice Sexual Offences Laws and Reform of Discriminatory Sexual Offences Laws.

In the examination of the Commonwealth’s Discriminatory Sexual Offence Laws, the snapshot covers four broad areas: rape and sexual assault including marital rape; consensual same-sex sexual activity; sexual offences against children; and, sexual offences and persons with disabilities. According to these areas, the Human Dignity Trust produced a set of indicators of human rights compliant sexual offence laws, and assessed the status of sexual offence laws in 54 Commonwealth member states against those indicators.

A country’s sexual offences laws, if they are non-discriminatory, properly implemented and enforced consistently and fairly, can play a vital role in protecting people, deterring the commission of offences and providing redress for those affected by violations. The section on Good Practice Sexual Offence Laws outlines the Human Dignity Trust’s good practice criteria to guide the assessment of existing legal frameworks and drafting of new legislation. It also provides model examples of laws that can be found across the Commonwealth.

The final section, Reform of Discriminatory Sexual Offences Laws, notes six case studies of recent examples of successful sexual offences law reform. The main factors of reform in each of the six case studies are also considered.

The Further Resources section of the Legal Snapshot provides links to the Human Dignity Trust’s extensive body of work on the landscape of Commonwealth sexual offences legislation.

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