What Is Sexual Abuse/Assault?

Sexual abuse and assault (or sexual violence) is any unwanted sexual behaviour towards another person. There are different kinds of sexual violence but all sexual violence is a serious crime.

Types of sexual violence


Rape is when someone has sex, or tries to have sex, with someone else without their permission.

You cannot give consent if you are:

  • being forced, threatened or intimidated
  • being mislead (e.g. by someone pretending to be a doctor)
  • under 16 years of age.

Date rape

If someone you are dating or have met socially commits an act of sexual violence against you, it is referred to as date rape.

Drink spiking

When someone uses a drug to force you into a sexual act it is referred to as drink spiking. Drugs used in this way are known as date rape drugs. Alcohol - added to someone's drink without them knowing - is the most common date rape drug.


Incest is when someone is forced into sexual activity with a member of their family or step-family.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual touching or exposure (e.g. if someone displays their genitals in public).

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual attention. It includes:

  • touching or other physical contact
  • making remarks with sexual connotations
  • requesting sexual favours
  • displaying offensive material.

In Queensland, sexual harassment applies in all situations. In other states or territories, it may only apply in the workplace.

Up-skirting or secret filming

'Up-skirting' refers to filming under someone's clothing with a hidden camera. In Queensland it is illegal to secretly film someone in a private place (such as a bathroom or change area) and to spread the images.

How big is the problem of sexual violence?

Exact numbers are not available as:

  • many acts of sexual violence are not reported
  • offences differ from state to state.

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships

This survey of 20,000 Australians found that 21% of women and 5% of men say they've been forced or frightened into doing something sexually they didn't want to do.

Of these:

  • about half were 16 years or younger the first time it happened
  • only a third had talked to anyone about their experience.

2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics data

In 2010, there were more than 17,000 victims of sexual assault in Australia.

Of these:

  • 85% were female
  • 30% were assaulted by a family member or partner
  • 21% were assaulted by a stranger.

Can sexual violence be avoided?

Rules like don't talk to strangers and don't walk alone after dark may help to avoid general crime, but they help little to prevent sexual violence.

These rules support the myth that a victim of sexual violence could have done something to avoid it. In fact, the victim usually knows the person committing the sexual assault and most incidents take place at home.

It is best to join in activities that will help build confidence and self esteem, enabling you to deal assertively and if necessary aggressively with an attacker.

Text © The State of Queensland 2012, About Sexual Abuse and Assault, http://www.qld.gov.au/community/getting-support-health-social-issue/about-sexual-abuse-assault/ Last updated: 17 September 2012; Viewed 26 October 2012.

© S. D. Goeldner, 2012. Last updated August, 2019.

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