What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual act. This includes a range of unwanted or forced sexual behaviour including rape.

Perpetrators of sexual assault use power, force and manipulation to attempt to control the body, senses and emotions of their victims.

Sexual assault can be a crime.

It is an act of violence. It is not about love and affection. Sexual assault and/or rape include when someone:

  • forces you to participate in making, or watching pornography;
  • forces, manipulates or coerces you into having sexual intercourse participating in other sexual acts against your will; or
  • imposes unwanted sexual attention on you that makes you feel uncomfortable or scared.

Sexual assault definitions

Sexual harassment is any form of unwanted, unwelcome or uninvited sexual behaviour, which is or might be offensive, humiliating, intimidating or embarrassing. Sexual harassment takes many forms, including wolf whistles, leering, sexual innuendo, unsolicited physical contact of a sexual nature, sexual advances, and unwelcome remarks with sexual connotations.

Rape/sexual assault is defined as penetration of the vagina or anus with the penis, other body part or foreign object without consent. It also includes forced oral sex.

Marriage/defacto rape is when a regular partner pressures or forces their partner into having sex against their will. This is still rape, even though the other person is a spouse or regular sex partner.

Date/acquaintance rape is when a person is sexually assaulted by the person they are dating. You may be in an ongoing relationship, or it may be someone you have dated only once or twice. Acquaintance rape is when a friend or someone you have met, but don't know very well, sexually assaults you.

Child sexual assault is any act of a sexual nature towards a child by someone older than the child or in a position of power.

Incest is sexual assault by a family member. This may be a parent, sibling, step-parent, uncle or any other family member.

Ritual abuse (R.A.) is organised, systematic and often bizarre violence including physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and sexual abuse. Specific rituals may take place in a cycle of annual dates such as a victim's birthday, religious and other holidays, and full moons, although this differs widely. There is no discrepancy, however, in the horror and pain inflicted on the victims.

Perpetrators of ritual sexual abuse seek total power and control over children and captive adults. Drugs, trickery, dissociation, programming, ritual work and torture are used by abusers to confuse, terrorise and control their victim.


Consenting to any sexual act depends on a person's ability to understand what the sexual act is, the implications of the sexual behaviour, and on their ability to make an informed choice, without force, manipulation or coercion, about whether or not they want the sexual act to occur.

A person’s ability to consent regardless of the relationship, is dependent on a number of factors including their level of cognitive ability and whether they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or prescribed medication.

Sometimes people agree to a sexual act because they are frightened - this is not consent as agreement is coerced.

There are many myths surrounding sexual assault. These myths deny the reality and diminish the effects of sexual assault, blame the victims, and protect the offender by implying that they are not responsible for their abusive actions or behaviours.

Legal ages of consent: Tasmanian Criminal Code

Children do not have the ability to consent to any sexual act, as they do not understand the implications of a sexual relationship and therefore cannot give ‘informed consent’.

The Tasmanian Criminal Code states:

Any person who has unlawful sexual intercourse with another person who is under the age of 17 years is guilty of a crime.


(a) that person was of or above the age of 15 years and the accused person was not more than 5 years older than that person; or

(b) that person was of or above the age of 12 years and the accused person was not more than 3 years older than that person.

Who does sexual assault happen to?

Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It happens to babies, children, adolescents, adults, males and females, young and old. It also happens to people from varying cultural backgrounds, religions, abilities and sexual orientation.

Who are the perpetrators?

Perpetrators can be known (e.g. friends, family) or unknown; persons of any age. Perpetrators of sexual assault include both men and women.