In 2011, there were 17,238 reports of sexual assault in Australia or 76 reports per 100,000 people.231 This is likely to be lower than the true prevalence, due to under-reporting.
The age patterns for reports of sexual assault victims in Australia are similar for both sexes, peaking in the 10–14 year age group and then declining, but with rates of assaults against females being consistently higher in all age groups than in males.231
For females aged 10–14 years, the rate of sexual assault was 494 per 100,000 population, compared with 96 per 100,000 for males.3
The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012 Personal Safety Survey10 showed that 17% of women (1,494,000) aged 18 years and over and 4% of men (336,000) aged 18 years and over have experienced at least one episode of sexual assault since the age of 15.
Relationship to perpetrator
Both men and women who had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 were more likely to have been sexually assaulted by someone they knew, for example a friend or family member, than by a stranger. Specifically, in 2011, almost half of all victims were sexually assaulted by a ‘known other’ and 31% by a family member. Strangers accounted for only 15% of sexual assaults in 2011.231
Using a broad and inclusive definition of sexual coercion, an Australian survey found that 2.8% of men and 10.3% of women reported sexual coercion under the age of 16 years.214 Only 31.5% of men and 37.9% of women had ever talked to someone about the assault, with the majority talking solely to a friend.214 A low 2.6% of men and 8.4% of women reported the incident to police. These data provide a small insight into how common sexual coercion is in our society, and how infrequently disclosure is made or legal action instigated.214
People who have an increased risk of sexual assault
Certain groups of people appear to experience sexual assault more frequently and sexual assault can be part of intimate partner or family violence:
- Socio demographic risk
- young people, aged 10–14 years231
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Associated health issue
- alcohol users (either consumed by choice or via spiked drinks)235
- illicit drug users (taken by choice or consumed via spiked drinks), including those injecting236
- mental health issues
- a disability (including learning difficulties).237
- Past history of abuse
- previous experiences of sexual assault238
- a history of childhood sexual assault (up to one in three women who were sexually assaulted as a child report sexual assault as an adult).239
- Living or working in circumstances such as:
- homelessness or threat of homelessness240
- the sex industry241
- custody and incarceration242
- travelling or being an international student
- an area of war and civil crisis.243
The majority of victims who have been sexually assaulted do not report the incident to the police. They may fear that they will not be believed, or are reluctant to enter a system that they fear will treat them as being responsible for the assault. Reporting of sexual assault is also dependent on the person’s previous experience with authority figures. They may also not recognise the incident as an assault or may blame themselves – this may also be influenced by cultural issues.