Sexual assault in a relationship

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Sexual assault in a relationship

  • If someone forces or threatens another person into doing anything sexual that they do not want to do, that is sexual assault.
  • Being in an intimate relationship is not relevant. If the sexual activity was done without consent it is sexual assault;
  • Sexually assaulting a partner or spouse is a crime. It is always the fault of the offender.

Sexual violence in intimate partnerships (like being married or dating someone) is common. It is a tactic of domestic or family violence. It is often used by someone to control and abuse their intimate partner.

Sexual assault in intimate relationships is a crime for which the perpetrator is solely responsible.

Anyone who experiences sexual violence is entitled to support, and legal and medical assistance.

Consent is needed every time

Consent is required each and every time a person or people have sexual contact, including in an intimate relationship.

  • Consent needs to be actively sought for every sexual act, every time it occurs;
  • Consent should be enthusiastic and freely and voluntarily given;
  • Merely submitting to a sexual act is not the same as consenting;
  • Consenting to sex once does not imply ongoing consent into the future;

You can read more about consent here:

The impact of sexual violence in a relationship

People who have experienced sexual assault from an intimate partner often have difficulty accepting what happened as sexual violence, assault or rape.

One reason for this is that many people think about rape and sexual violence as something that happens between strangers. 'Stranger danger' advertising campaigns reinforce this myth. We may find it hard thinking of a partner we love as someone who may hurt us.

It can be difficult to identify sexual acts with a partner without consent as sexual assault, especially when sex may be consented to at other times. It's even harder when other controlling and coercive (forcing) behaviour is being used.

Despite this, the impact of sexual assault in a relationship is often devastating. People who have experienced sexual violence from their partner describe similar thoughts and feelings to other survivors of sexual violence:

  • Fear;
  • Shame;
  • Anxiety;
  • Low mood;
  • Self- blame and guilt;
  • Sexual dysfunction;
  • Recurrent memories and or flashbacks;
  • Insomnia or fatigue;
  • Stress- related physiological symptoms ;
  • Fear of not being believed.

People who have experienced sexual assault from their intimate partner may also experience other challenges:

  • Fear their partner will retaliate if they tell anyone about the assault;
  • Fearing further violence if they try to resist;
  • Being financially dependent on their partner;
  • Worrying about children or other family members suffering if the relationship breaks down;
  • Difficulty seeing the behaviour against them as something criminal.

Despite these barriers, talking about the violence can help people to understand it is serious.

Getting support

Everyone who has experienced sexual assault in a relationship is entitled to support and help.

Talking to a trauma specialist counsellor can be helpful in understanding what has happened and the impact it has had. A trauma specialist counsellor can also provide assistance to identify local services and supports.

For more information about the rights and responsibilities of victims of violent crime, it may be helpful to visit the NSW Justice Victims Services webpage or contact the Victim Access Line on 1800 633 063.

Victims Services also operate a contact line specifically for Aboriginal people: 1800 019 123.

If someone is unsure if they have been sexually assaulted it may help to talk to one of our counsellors:

Get in touch:

NSW Rape Crisis
Available 24/7.
Sexual Assault Counselling Australia
For those affected by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Available 24/7.
Online counselling
Online counselling is also available 24/7.