What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual behaviour. If it’s sexual and unwanted, it’s not ok.
If someone has sexual contact with you that you don’t want, that is sexual assault. If someone makes you do sexual things that you don’t want to do, that is sexual assault. Sexual assault also includes any sexual act that you are not able to consent to, for example if you are asleep, unconscious, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Sexual assault can take place in public or in private. It can be carried out by a stranger but is more often done by someone you know -
a friend, family member, or partner.
Any kind of vulnerability can put someone at higher risk of sexual assault because it’s an abuse of power. Groups such as women and children and LGBTQIA+ experience higher rates of sexual assault.
Sexual behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable or frightened is sexual assault. This can include:
- touching, grabbing, or kissing your body, even through clothes
- rape (penetration of the anus, vagina or mouth with a finger, penis, or object)
- being forced to watch or engage in pornography, including being made to pose for photographs or videos
- being made to perform sexual acts, including stimulating another person or masturbating
- another person showing you their genitals
This list is not exhaustive. It is common to feel confused about what has happened to you and seeking specialist support or talking to a trusted person can be helpful.
Sexual assault is never, ever your fault. Everyone has the right to feel safe, and to make decisions about their own body. Sexual violence is an abuse of power. No person deserves to be sexually assaulted. A person who commits sexual assault is responsible for their own behaviour.
How common is sexual assault?
One in 6 women and one in 25 men have been sexually assaulted at least once after the age of 15.
Reporting to police has increased by 30% in recent years, but this is likely to be because more people are reporting - not because sexual assault is happening more.
Most perpetrators (75-83%) are known to the victim. 97% of those convicted for sexual assault are male.
What is the impact of sexual assault?
Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own unique way. Some express their emotions while others prefer to keep their feelings inside. Some may tell other people right away what happened, others will wait weeks, months, or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so. It is important to respect each person’s choices and way of coping with this traumatic event.
There is no right or wrong way to feel after a sexual assault. But common responses include:
- Shock/disbelief – “I never thought this could happen to me”
- Fear – “Will the perpetrator hurt me again?”
- Anger – “How dare they do this to me?”
- Shame – “There’s something wrong with me’’
- Guilt/self-blame – “If only I hadn’t…”
- Betrayal – “But I trusted them”
- Numbness – “I feel so hollow”
- Worry/anxiety about the future – “Will my life ever be the same?”
Some common symptoms and effects of trauma include: flashbacks, nightmares, mood swings, insomnia, exhaustion, loss of appetite, over-eating, feeling numb or spaced out, avoidance of people and places, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, risk-taking behaviour, self-harming, or self-medicating through alcohol and/or drug use.
Where to get more information?
You don’t have to go through this alone. There is support available to you if you have been sexually assaulted.
Some victim-survivors find it helpful to share their story. Others do not. Here are some short survivor stories you might find helpful to read: Survivor stories
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (www.aihw.gov.au) analyses the data about sexual assault in Australia. You can read the latest summary here: Sexual assault in Australia.
Reaching out for support can be an important way to help you work through the trauma you have experienced. Healing is possible and everyone does this in their own way and at their own pace. Despite your trauma, you also have your own resources and strengths that can also help you recover from the impacts of sexual violence.