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Sexual assault and rape

8-minute read

If you have been, or think you may have been, sexually assaulted and you don't feel safe, call triple zero (000).

Key facts

  • Sexual assault is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that you have not consented to.
  • Anyone can experience sexual assault and most people know the person who assaulted them — which may be a partner or spouse.
  • If you've been assaulted, you can decide whether to report your sexual assault to the police or a support service. This can be done at any time.
  • There are many sexual assault helplines and services that can help you.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a type of sexual violence. It is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that you have not consented to. It can occur when a person is forced, tricked, intimidated or coerced into sexual behaviour.

There are helplines and crisis organisations that can help if you, or someone you know, has been sexually assaulted. See 'Resources and support' below.

Sexual assault includes:

  • unwanted or inappropriate touching or kissing
  • having sex with someone without their consent

Rape typically refers to penetration of the genitals, anus or mouth — without consent — by a penis, object or another part of the body.

In some states, rape is now referred to as 'sexual intercourse without consent'.

Sexual assault can also involve being exposed to sexual behaviour without your consent, such as:

  • forcing someone to take their clothes off
  • repeated sexual taunts
  • someone showing you their genitals (penis and testicles or vulva)
  • someone masturbating in front of you
  • being forced to watch pornography

When a child is involved, sexual assault is usually referred to as child sexual abuse.

How common is sexual assault?

Anyone — of any age or gender — can experience sexual assault. Most people know the person who assaults them. They may be a spouse, intimate partner or carer.

Sexual assault is a crime. Almost 2 million Australian adults have experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 15 years.

Giving consent means knowingly and freely agreeing to sex or sexual activity.

You can only consent to sexual behaviour — which means you agree to the behaviour — when you are not being intimidated and you are aware of what is going on.

You cannot give consent if:

  • you are being threatened in any way
  • you are unable to understand the nature of the behaviour
  • you are unconscious (passed out) or not able to say what you want due to alcohol or drugs
  • you are asleep
  • you are scared

You can decide at any time that you don't consent to sexual behaviour continuing — even if you've already started. If this happens, both of you must stop right away.

Even if you are in a relationship with someone, they still need your consent for sexual activity. And they need your consent every time.

Australian states and territories all have laws that define the 'age of consent'. If you are below that age, you cannot lawfully give your consent.

In Australia, the age of consent is 16 years for all states and territories, except in Tasmania and South Australia where it is 17 years.

What should I do after a sexual assault?

If you're still in danger or worried about your safety, call triple zero (000).

If you have been sexually assaulted, you should go somewhere you feel safe, if you can. This might be:

  • the home of a close friend or family member
  • a hospital
  • a police station

You might want to tell someone you trust about the assault, such as:

Do not feel ashamed or to blame. Sexual assault is never the fault of the person who was assaulted.

Seek medical help if you can, from a hospital, health clinic or rape-crisis centre. Staff will give you appropriate medical care and some can provide counselling services.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What medical treatment might be needed after a sexual assault?

You should seek medical support after a sexual assault. You may have injuries that need treatment.

It's also good to get advice on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To get treatment, you can go to a:

Doctors and nurses will deal with your medical needs confidentially. If you're an adult, they will not inform the police without your permission.

When a child has been sexually assaulted or raped (or this is suspected) it is mandatory for people in certain occupations, such as doctors and nurses, to report the event.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist sexual assault service for further support and treatment.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Even if you don't have any symptoms, it's best to be checked for STIs. Your doctor may refer you to a sexual health clinic for further testing or treatment.

Emergency contraception

Some people may also need to discuss with the doctor or nurse the possibility of pregnancy.

It may be advisable to have emergency contraception (such as taking the morning after pill) to reduce your risk of an unwanted pregnancy.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How might I feel after a sexual assault?

Being sexually assaulted is often an extremely distressing experience. Everyone reacts differently, and your feelings can change over time, or even from day to day.

It's normal to go through a range of emotions, including:

  • shock and denial
  • not being able to talk about the assault
  • anxiety, fear or not being able to relax
  • depression or mood swings
  • feelings of guilt, shame or worry about being judged
  • feeling isolated
  • having nightmares and flashbacks
  • loss of confidence, self-esteem and trust in others

It's important to remember that if you have been sexual assaulted or raped, it was not your fault, regardless of what you were wearing, where you were or if you'd been drinking.

You may want to talk with someone, such as a close friend, family member, counsellor or support group. There is a list of 'support services' at the bottom of this page.

The hospital, police, your doctor and other health professionals should also be able to give you the contact numbers for support organisations in your area.

You can seek help any time after the assault, including in the following days, months or years. There is no 'time limit' to getting help for sexual assault.

If you are experiencing anxiety or symptoms of depression, you should see your doctor.

How do I report a sexual assault?

Only you can decide whether to report a sexual assault to the police. It can be done at any time — for example, immediately after the incident or days, weeks or even years later.

You can report the assault to police even if you don't want an investigation. This creates a record of what happened, which can be used later if you change your mind. And it may stop someone else being harmed.

It may also be possible to complete an online sexual assault report.

How is physical evidence collected?

The most important physical evidence will be on you, your clothes, and the place where the assault happened. It's best if physical evidence is collected within 72 hours (3 days) of the assault.

To preserve the evidence, it helps not to clean or change your clothes until you have seen a doctor or the police. If you have already changed your clothes, put the clothes that you were wearing in a paper bag and take them with you for testing.

A specialist medical examination to collect evidence can be done by a trained doctor or nurse at a sexual assault service. It is your choice whether to have this done. If you choose to have this examination, try not to shower or wash yourself beforehand.

Resources and support

Support organisations offer confidential information, counselling and support.

In your state or territory, you can contact:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

This information was originally published on healthdirect - Sexual assault and rape.

Last reviewed: September 2023


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Child sexual assault: protecting your child - myDr.com.au

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The 1800RESPECT Service Directory connects you with sexual assault, domestic or family violence services relevant to your needs.

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Child sexual abuse helplines & services | Raising Children Network

If children or teens have experienced child sexual abuse, call police on 000. You can also call state or territory child protection services. Get contacts.

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