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Understanding Sexual Assault

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any behaviour of a sexual nature that makes someone feel uncomfortable, frightened, intimidated or threatened.

It is sexual behaviour that someone has not agreed to, where another person uses physical or emotional force against them. It can include anything from sexual harassment through to life threatening rape. Some of these acts are serious indictable crimes.

The terms sexual assault and sexual abuse are often used interchangeably. Generally, the term sexual abuse refers to abuse that has happened in childhood and has occurred more than once. Sexual assault is often used to describe one-off incidents of sexual assault in adolescence and adulthood.

Sexual assault is an abuse of power.

Sexual assault is never the fault or responsibility of the victim survivor.

Examples of sexual assault include:

What causes sexual assault?

Sexual assault is both a consequence and a reinforcer of the power disparity existing largely between men, and women and children. It occurs within families and in multiple other settings and types of relationships.

There are many commonly held myths about sexual assault and what causes it. This resource from Victoria Police gives the facts.

What is the impact of sexual assault?

Impact of sexual assault on the lives of victim survivors is multi-faceted and complex.

It includes emotional, social, psychological, legal, health and political consequences. To facilitate a victim survivor's recovery from sexual violence, Sexual Assault Services Victoria recognises the importance of responding to each aspect in an appropriate and effective manner.

The impact of sexual assault can be compounded by factors such as gender, culture, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, religion, ability and socio-economic class.

Read more about the common impacts of sexual assault.

What does the law say about sex and sexual assault?

The basic laws about sex are that people can’t have sex together if:

If you have sex with someone underage or against their will it is a serious crime, called a sexual offence. Maximum penalties are between five and 25 years in prison.

Find out more about sex and the law at Victoria Legal Aid.

Information with thanks to SASVictoria.