Australian Bureau of Statistics, 24/08/2021
This article is the first in a new series exploring the nature and prevalence of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment in Australia. Topics covered include changes in prevalence over time, victimisation risk factors, immediate and long-term impacts on victims, and criminal justice outcomes for offenders.
The focus of this first article is the experiences of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse victims. It brings together data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Personal Safety Survey and the Recorded Crime – Victims collection. Each section focuses on a different aspect of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse victimisation.
Summary of Findings:
- Women were more likely to experience sexual assault than men: 17% of women (1.6 million) and 4.3% of men (385,000) have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.
- Both women and men were more likely to experience sexual assault by a known person than by a stranger. For women, the most common perpetrator was an intimate partner.
- 60% of women and 51% of men who experienced sexual assault experienced it more than once.
- 11% of women (1 million) and 4.6% of men (412,000) experienced childhood sexual abuse, most commonly by a known person who was not a family member.
- 2.2 million women (23%) and 718,000 men (8.0%) have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime (sexual assault since the age of 15 or sexual abuse before the age of 15. (Where a person has experienced both sexual assault as an adult and childhood sexual abuse, they are only counted once in the aggregated total).
Sexual assault by an intimate partner
- Women were eight times more likely than men to experience sexual assault by an intimate partner since the age of 15 (8.4% of women compared with 1.1% of men).
- The PSS found the rate of sexual assault increased between 2012 and 2016 for women but not for men.
Characteristics of persons experiencing sexual assault
- Sexual assault prevalence rates were higher for younger women, women in financial hardship, women living with disability, and women experiencing lower levels of life satisfaction.
- Women and men who witnessed violence towards a parent by a partner before the age of 15 were more likely than those who did not witness violence to experience sexual assault as adults.
- Women and men who experienced sexual abuse before the age of 15 were more likely than those who did not experience sexual abuse to experience sexual assault as adults.
Characteristics of sexual assault incidents
In the most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator experienced by women:
- 50% believed alcohol or another substance contributed
- 70% were sexually assaulted at a residential location
- 26% perceived the incident as a crime at the time
Characteristics of childhood sexual abuse incidents
In the first incident of sexual abuse experienced by women before the age of 15 (1 million):
- 48% were between 5 and 9 years of age
- The perpetrator was most commonly a known person who was not a family member (42%)
In the first incident of sexual abuse experienced by men before the age of 15 (412,000):
- 48% were between 10 and 14 years of age
- The perpetrator was most commonly a known person who was not a family member (66%)
Characteristics of women who reported sexual assault to police
- 13% of women reported their most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator to police, but were more likely to do so if they were physically injured and consulted a doctor or health care professional about their injuries.
- 34% of women who did not report the most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator to police said it was because they did not regard the incident as a serious offence.
Sexual assault recorded by police
Of the 144,797 victims of sexual assault recorded by police agencies between 2014 and 2019:
- 83% were female
- 63% were under the age of 18
- 48% of female victims and 39% of male victims reported the incident to police within a week of the incident occurring.
- 19% of male victims and 5.9% of female victims said the incident occurred 20 years or more ago.
Family and domestic related sexual assault recorded by police
- 34% of sexual assault victims recorded by police between 2014 and 2019 were family and domestic related.
- 91% of male and 67% of female victims of family and domestic related sexual assault were under the age of 18 at the date of incident.
- The most common offender for both male (88%) and female (60%) victims of family and domestic related sexual assault was a family member who was not an intimate partner.
- Intimate partners were responsible for a larger proportion of family and domestic related sexual assaults experienced by women (34%) compared with men (7.7%).
Advice/support and impacts on victims
- 50% of women sought advice or support after the most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator, most commonly from a friend or family member (71%).
- 57% of women experienced anxiety or fear in the 12 months after the most recent incident of sexual assault by a male perpetrator.
- Both men and women who experienced sexual assault were more likely to feel unsafe in the community than those who did not experience sexual assault.
If you or anyone you know is in need or crisis please call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Lifeline 131 114.