There are inherent problems in relying on reported data to identify the incidence of sexual assault. Previous research has suggested that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes where 'there are numerous "hidden" victims who do not report their victimisation to the police or to health officials, making them invisible in official statistics' (Schwartz, 1997:xi). Putt and Higgins (1997) undertook a review of available 'indicators' of violence against women and found: 'Without a doubt police data and (crime victimisation) survey data continue to underestimate the extent of violence against women' (Putt & Higgins, 1997:xiii). Despite the limitations of police and court statistics they can indicate trends and issues and are an important gauge of the extent to which victim/survivors access the criminal justice system.
A more reliable, but still problematic, method of identifying the prevalence of sexual assault within the community is through large-scale surveys. The first survey within Australia to ask both women and men about their experience of sexual assault was The Crime Victimisation Survey (Criminal Justice Statistics & Research Unit [CJSRU] ). In 1995, the Office of Status of Women commissioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), to undertake a nationwide survey on women's safety. The Women's Safety Survey (1996) replicated a project undertaken by the Canadian Bureau of Statistics. It was the most comprehensive large scale survey undertaken within Australia to attempt to identify the extent of violence which has been perpetrated against women. The second Survey (Personal Safety Survey) was carried out in 2006.
What the available statistics do tell us is that sexual assault is a gendered crime. Amongst adults it is primarily women who are the victim/survivors and primarily men who are the perpetrators. They also tell us that victim/survivors of sexual assault rarely report the crime to police and even more rarely do they see an offender face any form of justice. They tell us that victim/survivors access formal support services in slightly larger numbers than they make reports to police. The statistics provided below attempt to give a snapshot of all the available data.
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are abused before the age of 18 (Fergusson & Mullen. 1999)
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey, 2005)
- 93% of offenders are male (National Crime and Safety Survey, 2002)
- Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor of preventable death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15-44. It is responsible for more of the disease burden than high blood pressure, smoking or obesity (VicHealth, 2004)
- 1 in 6 reports to Police of rape and less than 1 in 7 reports of incest or sexual penetration of a child result in prosecution (Victorian Law Reform Commission, Sexual Offences: Final Report, 2004)
- Family violence affects 1 in 5 women in Victoria (Victorian Government, Office of the Premier, A New Approach to Reduce Family Violence Media Release, 28 April, 2005)
- Family Violence costs Australia about $8 billion per year, a substantial proportion of which is borne by the victims themselves (VicHealth, 2004)
- An estimated 27% of children who were in homes where violence was being experienced by a current partner had witnessed the violence (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey, 2006)
- 14% (1 in 7) of women sexually assaulted by a current partner and 16% (just over 1 in 6) by any other male reported to the Police (Australian component of International Violence Against Women Survey, 2004)
- In 2005 an estimated 44100 persons aged 18 years and over were victims of at least one sexual assault. This is a victimisation prevalence rate of 0.3%. Approximately 72000 incidents of sexual assault were experienced by these victims (National Crime and Safety Survey, 2005)
- 80% of offenders sentenced in the past 6 years received a custodial sentence. The average was 4 years 6 months - 5years 6 months. Median was 5 years. The sentences handed down to offenders ranged from as low as 12 months to 20 years at the highest. (Sentencing Advisory Council website, 2008)
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002), National Crime and Safety Survey, Catalogue No. 4524.0.55.001, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005), Crime & Safety Australia, Catalogue No. 4509.0, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006), Personal Safety Australia, (Reissue) Catalogue No. 4906.0, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
- Fergusson, D & Mullen, P (1999), Childhood Sexual Abuse: An Evidence Based Perspective, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
- Sentencing Advisory Council website (accessed 2008)
- Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (2004), The health costs of violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence. A summary of findings, Carlton.
- Victorian Law Reform Commission (2004), Sexual Offences: Final Report, Victorian Law Reform Commission, Melbourne
- C Broad (Housing Minister) & M Delahunty (Minister for Women’s Affairs), A New Approach to Reduce Family Violence, media release, Parliament House, Melbourne, April 28, 2005