Home page: For Young People: What is sexual assault?

What is sexual assault?

"Sexual harassment just doesn't mean physical but also verbal abuse" Egi, aged 16

Sexual assault = anything sexual that's unwanted or unwelcome

That means any sexual behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened.
It is sexual activity that the victim/survivor has not given free agreement to and it happens more often than most people think. Sexual assault usually involves the use of physical or emotional force and it is against the law.

"Sexual assault is more than just rape" Anna, aged 15

"You have to get a person's consent to have sex with them." Abdul, aged 17

How common is it?

All of these behaviours count as sexual assault ....

»» rape e.g. being forced to have vaginal, anal or oral sex
»» unwanted touching e.g. pinching, patting, embracing, rubbing, groping, flicking, being touched on the breasts, bum, legs etc
»» sexual harassment e.g. rude comments about your sex life
»» obscene gestures e.g. pretending to be masturbating in front of you
»» unwanted sexual comments or jokes e.g. comments about your body or relationships
»» sex-related insults e.g. calling you a slut, dyke, homo, slag etc
»» pressuring for dates or demand for sex e.g. invitations that turn into threats or not taking "no" for an answer
»» indecent exposure
e.g. showing parts of their body to you or flashing their genitals
»» being forced to watch or participate in porn e.g. taking a photo without your permission, forcing you to be on video, making you watch a movie
»» offensive written stuff e.g. dirty notes, letters, phone messages, emails, SMS , pictures

CHECKLIST #1...what does it feel like afterwards?

You might feel....

afraid or scared "I'm so jumpy all the time"
powerless "Will I ever be in control again?"
forced "This is not how I wanted my first time to be"
mood changes "I feel like I am going crazy!"
uncomfortable "I didn't feel safe, I can't be myself"
threatened "I thought if I didn't, he would leave me"
losing trust "There's no one I can really trust anymore"
gross! "It just felt so wrong"
dirty "I feel so dirty, like there's something wrong with me now"
angry "I hate him! I hate all men!"
anxious "I feel so tense, I am a nervous wreck"
embarassed or ashamed "What will people think?"
depressed "I don't care about anything anymore"
guilty "I feel as if I did something to make this happen"
alone or trapped "I'm so alone. I just want to hide within myself"

Each person responds differently to sexual assault. You might have felt some of these things, or all of them, or none of them at all. If you are confused, it might help to talk it through with someone you trust. Lots of other people who have been sexually abused say that talking helps.

How common is it?

Sexual Assault mindmap

References: This information comes from a study by Ferguson & Mueller (1999), The Australian Institute of Criminology (2001) and the World Health Organisation (2004).

"A lot of people get sexually assaulted, more than I thought." David, aged 14

"Guys get sexually assaulted too - I never knew that." Rina, aged 16