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Sexual assault is a crime. It occurs when someone is forced, coerced or tricked into sexual acts or exposed to sexual situations against their will. The perpetrator is responsible for sexual assault, not the victim.

Sexual assault can also occur when a person is unable to consent, such as if they are intoxicated, asleep or are too young to consent (below the age of 16 years).

Sexual assault can happen to anyone and is commonly perpetrated by someone known to the victim, including current and former partners, family members, neighbours and work colleagues. The majority of sexual assault is perpetrated by men against women, children and other men.

Sexual assault often has an enormous impact on victims and their families or significant others. People who have been sexually assaulted may experience shock, denial, disbelief, numbness, fear and an acute stress response. These feelings and other barriers to disclosing sexual assault mean some victims do not seek help to overcome the effects of the assault or report it to the police.

Other barriers to disclosing include:

  • most perpetrators are known to the victim
  • societal attitudes, myths and misconceptions about sexual assault
  • it can be difficult for some people who have been sexually assaulted to identify and name it as such
  • sexual assault may occur in the context of ongoing domestic and family violence
  • child sexual assault is often perpetrated by those in position of authority, care and/or guardianship of the child (e.g. family members, sports coach, foster parent, medical professional, teacher, clergy).

People who have been sexually assaulted may have health concerns such injuries or a fear of pregnancy or of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

In the long term, victims may experience emotional and psychological harm such as flashbacks, nightmares and depression and anxiety; a deterioration in personal relationships, substance abuse difficulties, self-harm and the development of chronic health concerns.

The extent of the impact of sexual assault depends on many factors such as:

  • relationship of the victim to the offender
  • the nature and duration of the assault
  • the reaction of significant people in the client’s network.

You do not need to have reported the sexual assault to the police to receive help from a NSW Sexual Assault Service. Anyone can contact a sexual assault service and request assistance.

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is any sexual act or sexual threat imposed on a child or young person. Child sexual abuse includes a range of behaviours to involve a child in any sexual activity. These behaviours include touching, digital penetration, sexual intercourse, exposure to child abuse material, or forcing the child to engage in sexual acts with others.

Child sexual abuse is commonly perpetrated by someone known to the child and family. Perpetrators of child sexual assault exploit trust, authority and power over the child. They might make them feel special through gifts or bribes, make them feel complicit in the offending and use threats, force and tricks.

Most commonly, offender tactics involve the offender placing responsibility onto the victim and/or non-offending family members/significant others and carers. Victims of child sexual may not disclose assault may not disclose until years later, if ever.

Young people experience sexual assault in a variety of relationships, including those with family, peers, dating partners and acquaintances. Some young people may be sexually assaulted while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and may be fearful to disclose the assault because they don’t want this to be known or fear they will be blamed. They may also fear for their own safety, fear for the others safety, fear the consequence of reporting, fear they will not be believed, have a relationship with the perpetrator (e.g. they are a parent or a sibling) or believe that nothing will come of the disclosure.

If you have concerns about a child’s safety or that they may have been sexually abused an important first step is to report your concerns to Department of Communities and Justice to help keep your child safe and prevent further abuse.

If you think a child or young person is at risk of harm from abuse or neglect, contact the Child Protection Helpline on 13 21 11 (TTY 1800 212 936).

Support services

NSW Health Sexual Assault Services are located in all local health districts across NSW. They provide free services including crisis counselling, information and support, medical care and forensic examination, ongoing counselling, group work and court preparation and support for anyone who has been sexually assaulted.

This includes services for children, young people and adults who have been sexually abused as well as their non-offending parents/carers, partners, families and other supporters.

These services are based in certain hospitals and community health services across NSW. There is a sexual assault service in your area open 24 hours a day. Find the contact details of your local NSW Health Sexual Assault Service.

Reporting a sexual assault

If you wish to report a sexual assault to the Police, contact your nearest Police station. Police are well trained to provide assistance to people who have been sexually assaulted.

NSW Health Sexual Assault Services can help facilitate this process and if you wish to speak with a counsellor call your local NSW Health Sexual Assault Service.

If you wish to report a sexual assault and the assault has just happened, it is better not to change your clothes or wash beforehand to help preserve evidence.

If you, or a person you know, are under 16 years of age and have been sexually assaulted, reports can be made to the Child Protection Helpline on 13 21 11 (TTY 1800 212 936) as well as to a local police stations.

Anybody who reports being sexually assaulted to the NSW Police Force or the Department of Communities and Justice should be taken or referred to their nearest NSW Health Sexual Assault Service.

For victims who decide not to formally report the assault to the police, the NSW Police Force has developed a second option for providing them with information about the sexual assault: Sexual Assault Reporting Option (SARO).

Current as at: Monday 23 January 2023