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Sexual violence

Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes any sexual behaviours or sexual acts that are committed against a person’s will. Sexual violence can affect people of all genders throughout their lives and can be perpetrated by strangers or people who are known to the victim-survivor. Sexual violence is prevalent and can intersect with other forms of harm.

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of sexual violence crimes and behaviours, including but not limited to:

Statistics

People have the right to be safe from sexual assault of any kind.

Victim-survivors of sexual violence and assault may never forget their victimisation, but they can heal with support from family, friends and their communities.

There are sexual assault services across Western Australia that offer free crisis phone lines, support, advocacy, counselling, information and resources to those who are experiencing any form of sexual violence.

Frequently
asked questions

When we talk about sexual violence and sexual assault in our communities, several questions are frequently raised.

This section includes some of the basic, most frequently asked questions about sexual assault. Other specific information and resources on sexual violence and assault can be found in the KNOWLEDGE CENTRE.

The Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing uses the term sexual assault to encompass a range of experiences identified by victim-survivors.

Sexual assault is described as an unwanted and non-consensual act of a sexual nature forced upon a person, either by physical force, intimidation or coercion, or an attempt is made to do this act. 

Sexual assault includes attempted rape and rape, aggravated sexual assault (with a weapon), as well as non-consensual acts that do not involve penetration such as groping, touching, and forcing someone to watch or perform a sexual act.  Sexual assault also includes when a person is unable to provide consent, for example if affected by drugs or alcohol, underage or intellectually unable to give consent.

In Western Australia, sexual assault is a crime. Sexual offences in Western Australia are governed by the Criminal Code Compilation Act 1913. The act contains a range of sexual offences against children who are below the relevant ages of consent as well as sexual offences against adults. For most sexual offences against adults, the absence of consent is an essential element.

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, although women, children and some demographic groups experience sexual assault more frequently than others.

In Australia, sexual assault impacts many people each year from all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. 

The prevalence of sexual violence goes far beyond the cases that get reported to the police. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017) almost 9 out of 10 incidents women who experienced their most recent aggravated sexual assault by a male in the last 10 years, did not contact the police. 

However, low reporting rates and varying research designs make it really difficult to find data and a set of numbers that tells the whole story of sexual violence prevalence in Australia.

The 2016 Personal Safety Survey reveals:

  • That 1 in 6 women (17%, or 1.6 million) and 1 in 25 men (4.3%, or 385,000) have experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15
  • In 2018, the rate of police-recorded sexual assaults against children aged 0-14 (167.6 per 100,000) was nearly twice that of people aged 15 and over (90.2 per 100,000)
  • During 2018-19, nearly all (97%) of sexual assault offenders recorded by police were male
  • In 2017–18, 1 in 3 hospitalised sexual assault cases identified a spouse or domestic partner as the perpetrator
  • Half of women did not seek advice or support after their most recent incident of sexual assault perpetrated by a male
  • In 2018, the rate of police-recorded sexual assault was almost 7 times as high for females as males

Although there is limited data, research suggests that certain populations are more likely to experience sexual violence.  These include:

  • Young women
  • Women with disabilities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
  • Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary and gender diverse, or have intersex variations
  • Previous victim-survivors of sexual assault
  • Homeless women
  • Women from some culturally and linguistically diverse communities

Sexual assault may traumatise and violate every aspect of a person’s being.  In the aftermath of sexual assault, victim-survivors can face extremely difficult and painful emotions, behaviours, and physical responses that appear and disappear, and reappear.

Further negative effects can occur if the victim-survivor is not believed or they are blamed when they first speak about being sexually assaulted.

While there are many common reactions to sexual violence, every victim-survivor responds to traumatic events in their own way.  The effects of the trauma can be short-term or long lasting after the sexual assault.

This page is an introduction to help better understand what a victim-survivor often experience.  It is not an exhaustive list.  As a counsellor, support person, advocate or someone working with a victim-survivor of sexual assault, helping to identify and normalise these reactions can be important. 

Each victim-survivor is unique in their experience, but may be impacted in the following ways:

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding (vaginal or anal)
  • Gynaecological trauma
  • Difficulty walking
  • Soreness
  • Broken or dislocated bones
  • Sexually transmitted infections and diseases
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Somatic complaints
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Panic disorders

Immediately after a sexual assault a person can be faced with a number of issues to consider. These include:

Not all victim-survivors of sexual assault want to take legal or police action.

Some may just want medical assessment, health care options and psychosocial support. 

Adults should be encouraged to make the decision about legal action themselves. They can report the crime any time (even years) after the assault.

Some victim-survivors may be undecided and that’s ok also.

However, if they wish to have a forensic examination to assist them in taking legal action, the collection of evidence is ideally best as soon as possible after the assault.

It is important victim-survivors are aware of their rights and the options available to them. They can choose to talk to a specialist sexual assault counsellor on contact the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) on 1800 199 888 to speak with one of their counsellors.

Consensual sex is when both parties are of legal age, agree to engage in sexual activity by choice, and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. This means agreeing to sexual activity without fear, coercion, force or intimidation.

Giving consent is active, not passive. It means people are freely choosing to say ‘yes’ and are also free to change their mind at any time. Consent is an important communication between sexual partners. Consent can look and sound different between different sexual partners, but it must be enthusiastic, certain and freely given.

It is against the law to have sex with someone who has not given their consent.

In Western Australia the legal age to consent to sexual activity is 16 years of age. This means sexual partners both need to be 16 years or over, and both freely agree to it, for sex to be consensual. If a person has sex with someone who is under 16 years of age it is a crime.

It is also against the law for some to have sex with a 16- or 17-year-old if they are in a position of authority over them e.g., a carer, teacher, coach.

Some points to consider include:

Sexual abuse is a term commonly used when talking about the sexual assault of children and youth.

Child sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity, ranging from fondling to intercourse, performed on a child by an individual who is older and in a position of power or authority.

Child sexual abuse also includes grooming and the production, consumption, dissemination and exchange of child sexual exploitation materials.