Sexual assault

In 2015, the police reported  21,380 cases of sexual assault, where 21% of cases involved children aged 10 to 14 years. Female victims aged 15-19 have the highest sexual assault rate of any age group.

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What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is sexual intercourse that happens without your consent. Sexual intercourse is when an object or body part is fully or partially inside another person’s vagina, anus or mouth. Sexual assault is against the law and is a serious crime. 

There are also aggravated circumstances where the prison sentence for sexual assault can be higher. To be considered a sexual assault with aggravation, there must be:

  • An offence which  involves some other injury, such as bruising, or
  • In addition to the sexual assault, the offender or someone nearby threatens to inflict some other injury, or
  • The offender committed the sexual assault in the company of other people, or
  • The victim is under the age of 16 years, or
  • The victim is under the authority of the offender, or
  • The victim has a serious physical or mental disability, or  
  • The offender breaks into a building or house with the intention of committing sexual assault, or
  • The offender deprives the victim of their freedom before, during or after the sexual assault.

Committing sexual assault in the company of other people can potentially attract a sentence of life imprisonment if it involves injuring the victim, threatening to injure the victim with a weapon/object or depriving the victim of their liberty before, during or after the offence.

What if the victim is under the age of 16?

Under the law, it does not matter if the offender is under the age of 16. They can still be charged and convicted for sexual assault.

What is consent?

Consent means agreeing to have sex freely and voluntarily. The knowledge that a person does not consent includes:

  • Knowing that they do not consent – usually if the person communicates to you that they don’t consent; OR
  • Being reckless as to whether the other person consents – this means not considering whether or not the person consents in a situation where it might be unclear, or where you might think (but don’t know for sure) that the person does not consent; OR
  • Having no reasonable grounds for believing the person consents – this means if you think a person consents, but the average person would not think so.

Consent is more complicated than just believing the other person consented. For this reason, it’s always best to check. Even if someone says “yes”, there are some situations in which they still cannot consent. These are:

  • If you or they are under the age of 16.
  • If you are under 18, and the other person is someone you are under the special care of. This includes guardians, teachers, instructors or health professionals like your doctor;
  • If a person has a serious mental or intellectual disability;
  • If they are unconscious or asleep at the time
  • They consent because the other person threatens them; or
  • They consent because they are being held against their will.

A person can also claim they did not consent because:

  • They had intercourse while very intoxicated by drugs or alcohol;
  • They  had intercourse because of threats or intimidating conduct; or
  • They had intercourse because of the abuse of a position of authority or trust.

It is also important to note 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 have sex.

For more information about consent, please see our page on sex.

What can you do if you have been sexually assaulted?

If you are in immediate danger, we recommended you call 000.

If you have been sexually assaulted, you have the right to be protected and you should report it to the police.

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

You should not feel ashamed because you have been sexually assaulted. Sexual abuse is an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust and the abuser is 100% responsible for their behaviour. You should talk to someone you trust like a parent, a family member, a trusted friend or a school counsellor. Or call the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 (this is a 24-hour service). They offer a very supportive service and they keep everything confidential. You can also email them at here or use their online chat service for people aged 5-25 here.

If you don’t feel comfortable telling someone you know what has happened to you, there are a number of Sexual Assault Victims Services that can provide you with help. These include:

Phone: (02) 9819 6565 or 1800 454 017 (if you are calling from regional NSW).

Phone: (02) 9601 3790

  • National Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Helpline: talk with experienced counsellors

Phone: 1800 200 526.

Limitations on reporting

There are no limitations on when you can report and have a sexual assaulted investigated if you were under the age of 18 years when the assault happened. The law was recently changed so that child victims of sexual assault can still bring a claim even if the abuse happened a long time ago.

Victim's compensation

In some instances, victims of sexual assault can apply for a ‘Recognition Payment’. This is a lump sum of money that can be paid in order to acknowledge the trauma suffered by victims of sexual assault.

Victims of sexual assault have 10 years to claim a recognition payment (please note that this does not affect your ability to bring a claim about the assault, only for compensation).

In order to apply, you will need to get supporting evidence from your doctor, the police, a psychologist, social worker etc. You can get assistance in lodging an application and finding the right evidence through the Victims Access Line who you can call on 1800 633 063.

Recognition Payments range between $5000 and $15000 depending on the offence and aggravating factors.

You can find more information here on Recognition Payments here.

If you’re under 25 and you have a question about sexual assault that we haven’t answered here, please ask us a question here and we can give you some free information and advice.

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