Vulnerable young people and the age of consent


Laws in all states and territories of Australia recognise that in some circumstances, a person under the age of 18 years, is capable of consenting to sexual contact. Understanding how the laws interact with mandatory reporting requirements can cause confusion for those who are mandatory reporters.

All those working in healthcare can contribute to the protection of vulnerable young people by promoting their best interests and identifying when a young person is at risk of abuse, coercion or exploitation.

By understanding how the laws operate and the principles to be applied, healthcare workers are better equipped to provide appropriate care and advice to young people.

This module compliments two other modules that are available: ‘Working with children: Identifying and responding to vulnerable children’; and ‘Working with vulnerable children: Mandatory reporting’.

It is recommended that all those working in healthcare complete the first two modules and that all those who are mandatory reporters complete the third module, Working with vulnerable children: Mandatory reporting.

Note that when discussing child protection laws, the law refers to anyone under the age of 18 years as a ‘child’ or ‘minor’.

When discussing age of consent laws, the preferred terminology is to refer to ‘young people’.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Understand the principles to apply in determining if a young person has the capacity to consent to sexual activity.
  • Know the applicable age of consent laws operating in your state or territory.
  • Understand the types of investigations and assessments that may be performed when considering whether a young person is competent to provide consent.
  • Be able to apply principles to decision-making in determining if a mandatory report is required.

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