Sexual abuse is any forced or coerced sexual activity by one person to exert power and control over another. An individual act of sexual abuse is called a sexual assault. Perpetrators of sexual assaults are not just strangers, in fact, sexual assaults most commonly happen between people who know each other.

28% of women assessed by Safe Steps between 2016-17 reported that they had been sexually assaulted by the perpetrator.

Examples of sexual abuse

  • Rape – any sexual activity with someone who has not given consent
  • Not stopping sex if the person you are having sex with has asked you to stop
  • Sexual contact when the other person is unable to consent, perhaps because they are drunk or unconscious
  • Pressuring or coercing someone into having sex or performing sexual acts
  • Not using protection when the other person wants to do so
  • Deliberately causing unwanted pain during sex, unwanted rough or violent sexual activity
  • Unwanted exposure to pornography
  • Sharing sexual photos, videos or messages of someone without their consent

Impacts of sexual abuse

Different people react differently to sexual abuse. Shock and denial are common initial reactions. Victim-survivors may also feel guilty, blame themselves for what happened or try to minimise their experience by telling themselves it wasn’t that bad. These are normal reactions but it is important to remember that what happened is in no way the fault of the victim-survivor. Responsibility for sexual abuse lies solely with the perpetrator.

The long term impacts of sexual abuse can include ongoing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, mood swings, nightmares and flashbacks, low self-esteem and physical symptoms like migraines and changes to appetite leading to weight loss or gain.

If you are experiencing sexual abuse…

  • Ensure you are safe – if you are in immediate danger or have just experienced a sexual assault, before doing anything else you should ensure your safety. Contact the police or emergency services on 000 immediately and try to get to a safe place.
  • Seek medical help – you may need medical assistance. If you can, go to a hospital or doctor.
  • Talk to someone – Victorians can call the Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292 for over-the-phone and in-person counselling, assistance and information. Call 1800 RESPECT for counselling or assistance across Australia. If you have experienced sexual abuse as part of a family violence relationship and need practical support (such as access to emergency accommodation), call Safe Steps on 1800 015 188.