Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is NEVER okay. You have the right to feel safe and protected. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused there are services that you can go to for help.

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

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What is sexual abuse?

 Sexual abuse is where someone does something sexual that makes you feel uncomfortable, or touches your body in a sexual way without your consent. 

In the ACT it is a crime for someone to: 

  • have sexual intercourse with another person without that person’s consent. Sexual intercourse means any penetration of a person’s vagina, anus or mouth by a penis, any part of the body (like fingers) or an object. 
  • act indecently toward another person without their consent (act of indecency) – this includes touching them or acting in a sexual way.

There are also additional laws that apply for sexual behaviour towards children and young people who are under the age of 16, including: 

  • having sexual intercourse with a child or young person under the age of 16
  • acting indecently with or toward a young person under the age of 16
  • grooming a child or young person under the age of 16 – this can include showing them sexual pictures or films or telling them sexual stories to make it easier to do a sexual act with them.

Consent is no defence to these crimes unless the similar age defence applies. This is where two young people have sex or do a sexual act together and they both consent, and both people are over the age of 10, and the age gap between them is no more than 2 years.

What is consent?

 

In the ACT, it is against the law to do a sexual act to, or with, someone without their consent. Consent generally means agreeing freely and voluntarily. Someone does not consent if they do not physically resist, or say or do anything to communicate consent. 

Consent is more complicated than just believing the other person consented. For this reason if you are thinking of doing something sexual with someone else, it is really important that you make sure you know how old they are, and check that they agree. One way to do this it do ask questions such as: 

  • asking the person what they want to do (for example, ‘Can I kiss you’ or ‘Do you want to have sex, or do you want to wait?’)
  • looking at their body language to see if they look uncomfortable.

Even if someone says ‘yes’ to sexual activity, there are some situations in which they cannot consent. These are: 

  • if one person is under the age of 16 (although for some crimes there is a defence for young people who are of a similar age)
  • if one person is under 18, and the other is a special carer. Special carers include guardians, parents, teachers, instructors or health professionals such as doctors or psychologists and employers
  • if someone consents because they are being threatened or held against their will; if they are so affected by drugs or alcohol that they are not capable of agreeing;
  • if they are not capable of understand the act (for instance if they have a serious mental or intellectual disability); or 
  • if they consented due to sexual activity because of the abuse of a position of authority or trust.

It is also important to know that just because someone has consented in the past, it does not mean that they have given consent forever. Consent needs to be given every time you engage in sexual activity.

For more information about consent, check out:

What can you do if you have been sexually abused?

If you are ever in immediate danger, please call the police straight away on 000 (triple zero) and try to get to a safe place. 

If you have been sexually abused, you have the right to be protected and you can report the abuse by calling your local police station. 

If you have been sexually abused, we strongly recommend that you get medical care.  A doctor can test and treat you for any sexually transmitted infections, carry out a forensic examination (if you were abused very recently and you wish to report the crime to the police) and provide information on sexual abuse and follow-up services. 

If you have been sexually abused, it is never your fault. If you feel comfortable, we encourage you to talk to someone you trust like a parent, family member, a close friend or a school counsellor. If you don’t want to tell anyone you know, you might feel more comfortable talking to a counsellor over the phone. You could call:

  • the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 (this is a 24 hour service). They offer a very supportive service and you can talk to them without giving your name. You can also email them at: https://kidshelpline.com.au/get-help/email-counselling or use their online chat service for people aged 5-25 at: https://kidshelpline.com.au/get-help/webchat-counselling 
  • 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. They are open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. You don’t need to give your name if you don’t want to, or you can give a different name.

There are other support services that can help you. We have listed some of these at the bottom of this page.

Reporting to police

 

If you have been sexually abused, you can make a report to police. You can do this by going to your local police station, or ringing the police assistance line on 131 444 (open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). If the abuse just happened, or if it is an emergency, please call the police on 000.

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, you do not have to make a report to police. It is your choice about whether, and if so when, you make a report to police. There are no limits on when you can report sexual abuse to the police, even if sexual abuse happened a long time ago.

However, if you are under 18, and you tell someone else what happened, they might have to make a report to police if they are a mandatory reporter.

If you are thinking about reporting to the police, but you aren’t sure if you are ready, it can be a good idea to write down everything you remember about what happened, so that you have those details if you do decide to report. Remember to keep these details in a safe place.

If the incident happened more than six months ago you can fill in an on-line form (called a historic sexual assault form). If you file this form you can choose whether to proceed with an investigation or it can be used to help police gather information about sexual abuse.

Compensation and assistance for victims

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, there may be a number of different ways you can get compensation or assistance, depending on what happened to you. These include:

There are some time limits that can apply to compensation. For example applications for financial assistance must be made within 3 years after the act occurred (or within 3 years after a victim turns 18).

If you think you might want to apply for compensation of support for sexual abuse, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to find out what your options are. You can contact us for free and confidential advice here.

Support Services

 

If you have been sexually abused, it can be really helpful to talk to a trained counsellor about what has happened. You can contact one of these services for free counselling and support:

  • Canberra Rape Crisis Centre provides counselling and support for people struggling with the impacts of sexual violence occurring now or impacts surfacing now for sexual assault that occurred long ago. You can contact them at (02) 6247 2525 (this is available from 7am to 11pm, 7 days a week). 
  • 1800 Respect – National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence Counselling provides counselling and support services to people impact by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse over the phone or online 24 hours a day. You can talk with experienced counsellors either on the phone by 1800 737 732 or online here

Find out more

You can also find out more about sexual abuse by looking at these websites:

If you are under 25 and you have any questions about sexual abuse, or if you want some advice on your options, you can contact us for free and confidential help.

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