What is sexual assault?
This article covers what sexual assault is, how it may impact on your life, what to do and where to get support if you've been assaulted.
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Written by Sonder
Updated over a week ago

Sexual assault can happen both online and in-person and can occur when someone forces, threatens or tricks you into doing something sexual that you don’t want to do. It can be an overwhelming experience if you have been sexually assaulted, and you may not know where to turn to next.

In Australia, approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence. Across their lifetime, approximately 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual harassment. Approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. (Personal Safety Survey 2016 (ABS, 2017))

What is sexual assault?

‘Sexual assault’ is any kind of sexual activity that you were forced, coerced or tricked into doing when you didn’t want to. It refers to a wide range of unwanted sexual behaviours, including:

  • forced, unwanted sex, sexual acts or touching

  • child sexual abuse: using power over a child or adolescent to involve them in sexual activity

  • indecent assault: touching, or threatening to touch, someone else’s body sexually without their consent.

It's important to realise that sexual assault isn't your fault, the only person in the wrong is the person who assaulted you. It can take time to come to terms with sexual assault and to recognise that a past experience was in fact sexual assault. It can be very difficult to understand what happened and you may feel all sorts of responses.

  • You may feel unable to accept what actually happened, or want to distance or distract yourself from the experience.

  • You may feel better denying the fact that what happened to you was sexual assault because it’s too awful or scary to think about.

  • Or you may have only just realised that what happened to you was sexual assault.

What should I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted?

  • Make sure that you are safe, you may need to call 000 and ask for the police, or for an ambulance if you are injured, as they will be able to get you to a safe place.

  • You could start by talking to a trusted friend, family member or colleague, or talk to a support service like 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), a confidential 24-hour helpline for people who have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence. You can also contact Lifeline (13 11 14) for mental health support. Or of course, if you're not sure where to start, the team here at Sonder is available 24/7 - we can guide you to the best support service depending on your circumstances.

  • Visit a sexual assault service in person, they have trained healthcare professionals and sexual assault counsellors who can answer all your questions, address any concerns you might have, and talk you through some options about what to do next.

  • See your local doctor or visit a hospital, as they can talk through your experience with you and provide you with medical support, such as emergency contraception, or carry out tests for sexually transmitted diseases. You could also chat with a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist who can also provide support. Sonder's team is available to help you make bookings for any of these services.

Every survivor's recovery from sexual assault will look different and it's important to know that there isn't only one way to respond. Even though you may seek support from others, you choose what happens next. But just know that you don't have to go it alone, there are always people there to support you.

Here are some national support services:

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: ReachOut.com, CentreCare NSW

Image credit: Clay Banks on Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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