What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault includes rape, incest and other forms of unwanted sexual behaviour, such as kissing or touching. It can include behaviour which does not involve touching, such as forcing someone to watch pornography or watch someone masturbate. Some forms of sexual harassment (unlawful, unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature) may also constitute sexual assault.

Sexual assault is an act of violence which takes a persons control over their bodies, rights and feelings away from them.

Sexual assault is a criminal offence. It can happen to anyone, any time and in any place. The majority of sexual assaults are perpetuated by men against women and are more likely to be committed by men that we know than by strangers.

Rape is when you are forced to have penetrative sex with someone by anus or mouth, by a penis, another part of the body, such as a finger or tongue, or by an object.

Incest is when members of the same family, such as fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, uncles, have or try to have some type of sexual contact with a child or young person.

Myths about sexual assault

Myths about sexual assault help to disguise how wide spread it is, and how traumatic the effects can be. Myths shift responsibility away from the perpetrator. The person who commits the assault is responsible. It is not your fault. You are not to blame.
Some myths include:

  • women ask for, enjoy or deserve sexual assault
  • only certain types of women experience sexual assault
  • rapists aren’t normal men – they are sick or can’t control their sexual urges
  • women who act or dress in certain ways asked to be raped, (like women who wear short skirts, or who drink in pubs)
  • rape is acceptable in some cultures
  • most rapes are committed by strangers

Myths about Incest

Myths about incest help to disguise how often incest occurs. Myths also try to shift the blame away from the person who committed the offence. If you were abused, you are not to blame.
Myths include:

  • incest only happens to ‘bad’ girls
  • children can be seductive and lead adults on
  • a normal man needs sex, if his partner is not fulfilling this need, incest can occur
  • mothers generally know about incest and allow it to continue

Facts about Sexual Assault

Facts about sexual assault:

  • There is no excuse for any type of sexual assault
  • No one has the right to sexually assault you
  • Sexual assault is a humiliating and violent experience
  • Most women know their attackers in some way
  • Men are able to control their own sexual desires and urges
  • No person ever deserves to be raped
  • Women from all backgrounds and cultures experience rape

Supporting an Assault Survivor

Getting Information

Supporting someone you care about through a trauma like sexual assault can be painful and confusing. Getting information about sexual assault may help you understand what the victim/survivor is going through, and how you can offer support. It may also help you make sense of your own reactions. You can do this by talking to supportive people like friends, family or counsellors. The services listed below may be able to suggest ways of getting more information about sexual assault. It is very important to seek permission to discuss someone else’s experiences before you do so.

Support – Important to do

The most important help you can provide is your support. In supporting a sexual assault survivor, it is important to:

  • believe them
  • let them make their own choices, taking control can reproduce feelings of losing control
  • listen to them
  • respect his/her strength as a survivor
  • recognise the trauma they have been through and its possible effects
  • reaffirm their feelings, for example, pain, fear, anger and shame are all natural responses
  • respect that healing takes time, space and energy
  • respect that he/she may wish to focus solely on themselves and their needs for a while
  • encourage the person to seek a variety of resources and supports that feel right for the person
  • ask the person what they need from you
  • help on a practical level
  • seek support for yourself
  • respect their decisions

Support – What to avoid

In supporting a sexual assault survivor, it is important to avoid:

  • taking charge
  • ignoring or smoothing over the effects of rape
  • minimising the pain he/she is feeling
  • blaming him/her
  • focusing or sympathising with the offender
  • insisting he/she gives you details of the assault
  • offering support you can’t give
  • expecting your reaction to be her first priority

Sexual assault is a crime. It is not your fault. Recovery from sexual assault and incest can sometimes be a long and difficult process. The services listed here can offer you support and information about sexual assault, and discuss all options available to you.

What to Do

Because of the myths that surround sexual assault it is important to know where to go to receive sensitive support. Centres Against Sexual Assault -(CASA’s), are located throughout Victoria. They offer support, counselling, advocacy, medical care and legal information for victims/survivors of recent or past sexual assault.

It is up to you to decide if you want to report the sexual assault to the police. If you go to the police, they are bound by the ‘Police Code of Practice for Sexual Assault Cases’ to follow certain procedures. You will be asked basic information about the assault, then taken to the nearest CASA for a medical examination to check for injuries, sexually transmitted diseases and to collect evidence. CASA counsellor /advocates will be there to offer information and support. If you are feeling unsure, you may ring a CASA and discuss your options with a worker.

Telling People

A first step to dealing with any form of sexual abuse is to tell people. Because of the secretive nature of sexual abuse and incest, the decision to tell people is a difficult one. By telling carefully chosen and trusted people, you have the opportunity to gain support, or get something done to stop the abuse. Telling the right person may help you feel less isolated and break the silence that may have surrounded your experiences.
Crimes Compensation

A person can apply for compensation if they have been the victim of assault, sexual assault or other crime. It must be demonstrated that injury has resulted from the crime. The perpetrator of the crime does not have to have been prosecuted or convicted of the offence, for the victim to make an application. The incident must be reported to the police within a reasonable time. However, in cases where there is fear of retribution, such as in domestic violence, it may be possible to argue that this constitutes ‘special circumstances’ for not reporting. Compensation must usually be applied for within a year of the crime, although extensions may be granted, With some exceptions these matters are heard before a Magistrate in private hearings. It is advisable to seek legal advice, and you have a right to be represented.