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Sexual assault and violence

  • Sexual violence is being forced, pressured or tricked into doing sexual things when you don’t want to
  • No one has the right to make you do sexual things that you don't want to do, even if you are married to them or in a relationship with them
  • Sexual violence can be a form of domestic and family violence
  • If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat

What is sexual violence?

Sexual violence can include anything sexual that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable. Some other words used to describe forms of sexual violence are sexual assault, sexual abuse and rape. These words have a general meaning and a legal meaning. On this website we use the general meaning of these words.

Sexual violence can involve strangers or people you know, including:

  • Boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, husbands or wives
  • Ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-partners, ex-husbands or ex-wives
  • Carers or paid support workers
  • Parents, guardians or other family members
  • Casual sex partners
  • Friends
  • Other people you live with or see often, whether inside or outside the home
  • Someone you know but aren’t close to, like a neighbour, boss, or friend of a friend

It is never OK for any of these people to force you to do something that you are not comfortable with. Every person has the right to say what happens to their body.

What forms can sexual violence take?

This list includes some types of sexual violence, but there are many others. If you don’t feel right about something that has happened to you, it is OK to ask for help.

Sexual violence can include people:

  • Looking at or touching your private parts or genitals (the parts of your body covered by your underwear, including your breasts, bottom, vagina and penis)
  • Putting their genitals, fingers or anything else inside you when you don’t want them to
  • Touching any part of your body in a sexual way when you don't want them to
  • Showing you their genitals or 'flashing'
  • Sexually harassing you—this means to bother you with sexual behaviour that you don’t want. It can include:
    •  Staring at you in ways that make you uncomfortable
    •  Saying sexual things or telling rude jokes
    •  Showing you pictures of naked people, or people doing sexual things
    •  Emailing, texting or sending you sexual messages or pictures
    •  Bothering you on social media with sexual messages, posts or pictures
    •  Following you and saying or doing sexual things
    •  Touching you in ways you don’t want to be touched
  • Watching you when you are naked or doing sexual things
  • Taking off a condom before or during sex without your permission
  • Posting sexual pictures of you on the internet when you don’t want them to
  • Making you watch or be in pornography (videos or photos of sex or sexual things)
  • Stopping you from making your own choices about whether or not to have a baby 
  • 'Grooming' of a child. Grooming means when a person who wants to sexually hurt a child gets the child to trust them.
  • Any sexual act with a child. Doing anything sexual with a child is against the law.
  • Doing sexual things to you when you can't make the kinds of choices you would normally make. For example, when alcohol or drugs have left you confused about what is happening or what you are agreeing to. See our section on consent.

Sexual coercion

Sexual coercion is when someone pressures or tricks you into doing sexual things when you don't want to. It involves behaviour that may not always be criminal, but is usually abusive in some way. Sexual coercion can include someone:

  • Saying they’ll leave you or have sex with someone else if you don't have sex with them
  • Trying to get you to drink more than you want to so you'll agree to sex
  • Making you feel guilty for not having sex when they want
  • Telling you it’s your duty to have sex with them
  • Saying that you owe them
  • Making you feel scared to refuse because of what they might do. This might be a fear of physical violence, but can also include fears of them saying bad things about you to others, sharing private or damaging information about you on the internet, or taking away support, money, children or pets.
  • Saying they will get you out of debt, provide you with drugs, let you stay at their house, or help you with a problem if you have sex with them
  • Holding you down, yelling at you or trying to scare you into having sex

Sexual coercion can happen with all kinds of people, including people you are in a relationship with. For more information on the signs of an unhealthy relationship, see our Healthy relationships page.

Reporting to the police

If you have experienced sexual violence you may find it hard to decide whether or not to report it to the police. You may want the perpetrator caught and stopped from doing it again, and also be worried about how upsetting the reporting process will be. The most important thing is that you make the best decision for you.

If you do decide to make a formal report, know that procedures have been put in place to support you and reduce distress. Talking to a trusted friend or family member or a sexual assault service may help you make your decision. You can find a sexual assault service in your area by searching our Service directory.

If you decide not to report to the police you can still provide information to help. The South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault has a website called S.A.R.A where you can report a sexual assault anonymously. The information you provide will be passed on to police all over Australia with any information that identifies you removed. This will help the police to identify trends and make communities safer.

Your rights and options after a recent sexual assault

1800RESPECT
21 NOV 2016

Consent

  • Consent means to freely agree to something
  • Informed consent means there is nothing stopping you from giving consent or understanding what you are consenting to
  • Sexual violence includes someone having sex or doing sexual things to you without your informed consent
  • Even if you are in a relationship with someone or married to them, they still need your consent to have sex or do sexual things with you

What does it mean to consent?

If you consent to sex it means you want to have sex at that time with that person. When sexual activity happens without consent it becomes sexual violence.

There is no consent if you are being forced. However, consent means more than just saying yes or not being forced and needs to be informed. 'Informed consent' means there is nothing stopping you from giving consent or understanding what you are consenting to.

Informed consent can't happen if:

  • You are passed out or unconscious — this might be due to drugs, alcohol or a violent assault
  • You are asleep
  • You are conscious, but the effects of alcohol or drugs leave you unable to say what you do or don't want
  • The other person tricks you into thinking they are someone else
  • The other person makes you feel too scared to say no. This might be due to a fear that they will:  
    • Hurt or kill you
    • Hurt, kill or take away your children or pets
    • Say private or damaging things about you to other people
    • Share private or damaging information, photos or videos of you on the internet
    • Take away your money, access to medical treatment, care or other crucial support
  • The number of perpetrators makes you too scared to refuse or resist, or makes it impossible for you to do so

There are some situations where it is never OK for someone to do sexual things with you, even if you consent. This is particularly the case if the other person holds a position of authority and trust over you. Authority means they have the power to tell you what to do. Trust means that you feel you are safe with them and that they will protect you. For example, relationships between:

  • Anyone and a child. It is against the law to do anything sexual with a child
  • School students and their teachers
  • Psychologists and their patients
  • Carers or support workers and people with disabilities that do not allow them to understand the sexual behaviour being directed at them

Other things to know about consent

Consent needs to happen every time. Just because you agreed to have sex once doesn't mean you agreed to have it at any other time.

Everyone needs your consent. Just because you are in a relationship with someone or married to them, doesn't mean they can have sex with you whenever they want. They still need your consent.

Consent has to happen at every step. Just because you agreed to do one sexual thing with someone, doesn't mean they can do other sexual things to you. You still need to agree.

Showing interest isn't consent. Giving someone attention, agreeing to go on a date or flirting with them isn't consent. You have the right to say no at any time.

Sexual violence and offering support

  • There is no right or wrong way for someone to react to an experience of sexual violence
  • Responding well when someone shares their experience with you can make a big difference to their recovery
  • Believing them, being a good listener, and never blaming them for what has happened are important when offering support
  • Supporting someone who has been through a traumatic experience can be upsetting. You can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat if you need support for yourself

How can I support someone?

When someone experiences sexual violence, the people they choose to talk to about it play an important role. Having a supportive family member, friend or co-worker can make a big difference. It can be hard to know how to respond and you may be worried about doing the wrong thing. There are some simple things you can do and the following information will help you respond. 

If you are unsure about the best way to support someone, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through our online chat. You can also visit our Service directory to find local sexual assault support services.

Believe

When someone tells you they have experienced sexual violence you should believe them. It’s normal to want to ask lots of questions, but this can make the other person feel uncomfortable. It may also make them feel that they are not believed. Before asking, listen.

Listen

Some people want to talk about what happened to them straight away and some people do not. Listen without interrupting or talking too much, and don’t judge when they are ready to talk.

Never blame

A person who has experienced sexual violence is never to blame for what happened. It doesn’t matter what a person was wearing or if they were drunk or on drugs, sexual violence is never OK. Someone's age, cultural background or relationship to the person or people who hurt them are never excuses for sexual violence.

Ask before you touch

After experiencing sexual violence some people do not want to be touched. As a support person, you may want to offer comfort by putting your arm around them or giving them a hug. It is important to ask first. Physical touching without seeking the person’s permission may bring back bad memories from the assault.

Help explore options

It's important that someone who has been sexually assaulted has as much control as possible over what they do next. You can help by finding out about support services and how to use them. After an assault it can be difficult to think about these things straight away. Your support with finding and contacting services can be a good place to start if this is something they want to do.

You can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat for referral to appropriate services. You can also visit our Service directory to find specialist support services in your area.

Get help for yourself if you need it

It’s normal to feel upset when a person close to you goes through something violent and traumatic. Don't ignore how you are feeling — ask for help when you need it. As a support person, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 on through online chat. To find a specialist sexual assault service in your area you can search our Service directory

Reporting to the police

It can be a hard choice to report to the police. People can have lots of reasons why they want to report but can also be very worried about it. A person who has experienced sexual assault may decide not to report to police, or not to have a medical or examination. This is their choice and must be respected.

If the person you are supporting does want to make a report, it can be helpful to have the support of someone who knows how the system works. This gives the person who has experienced the assault more control and choice.

Legal language can be confusing, always ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. A sexual assault service can help with information on reporting the assault and the law in your state or territory. You can find a sexual assault service in your area by searching our Service directory.

When must I report?

There are some circumstances in which the law says a person must report sexual abuse that they become aware of. This is called mandatory reporting and it is important to be aware of your responsibilities in this area.

In every state and territory certain people are required by law to report sexual abuse against people up to the age of 18. In Victoria and the Northern Territory this is required of any adult. For more information on mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect (including sexual abuse) see the Australian Institute of Family Studies Mandatory Reporting Resource Sheet.

Some states also have mandatory reporting laws for sexual abuse that takes place in residential services, such as psychiatric, aged care, and other government-run facilities. This applies even if the person who has experienced the abuse is an adult. In some cases, having a reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse has or may take place is enough to require you to report it.

To clearly understand your responsibilities when it comes to mandatory reporting it is best to get personal advice. Search our Service directory for a legal service in your state or territory that can provide free advice on your mandatory reporting requirements.

How to support a friend who has been sexually assaulted

1800RESPECT
11 NOV 2014