What is sexual assault?

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What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a crime for which the offender alone is responsible. People who have been sexually assaulted did not cause or provoke the violence in any way. Sexual assault happens because of gender inequality.

The person who is assaulted is never to blame.

People use a range of terms to refer to sexual assault and it can be confusing to understand the true definition.

Most important is the understanding that sexual assault is a gendered crime - the victims are women, children and men while offenders are nearly always men.

Definitions of sexual assault and sexual violence

  • People often use other terms for ‘sexual assault’ such as sexual abuse, rape, indecent assault, sexual molestation, incest, child sexual abuse, child sexual assault or sexual harassment;

  • In NSW law, the term 'sexual assault' is used to describe a number of acts of sexual violence against another person;

  • Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia defines sexual assault more broadly than the law does. We use this term to mean any act of a sexual nature by one person (or group of people) against another without their consent;

  • Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia also uses the term sexual violence as a broad descriptor for any unwanted acts of a sexual nature. This term is designed to emphasise the violent nature of all sexual offences, and is not limited to those offences that involve physical force and/or injury;
  • Consent is the foundation of respectful relationships and sex. Consent means freely and voluntarily agreeing to a sexual act.​

You can read the law on sexual assault in NSW, including various definitions, here:

https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1900/40/part3/div10

If you are outside NSW, you can find the laws on sexual assault by looking at your state or territory government's website.

Consent

To understand the definition of sexual assault, we must also understand the definition of consent, and how we know when consent has and has not been given.

Consent is the foundation of respectful relationships and sex. A person consents to sexual activity if they freely and voluntarily agree to it.

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

A person did not give consent if:

  • They are under the age of 16;
  • They changed their mind and were ignored/ the sexual contact continued;
  • They are so affected by drugs or alcohol that they are incapacitated;
  • They are unconscious or asleep;
  • They were threatened or coerced;
  • They are unable to give free consent eg. because of a disability or impairment, because of their age, or because the other person holds a position of power or authority over them.

A person can withdraw their consent (stop agreeing to the sexual activity) at any time, and it must be accepted.

Contact us

If you would like to speak to our counsellors by telephone or online, our service is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week:

Here's how to contact us:

NSW Rape Crisis
NSW Rape Crisis
Available 24/7.
Sexual Assault Counselling Australia
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
Online counselling is also available 24/7.