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 Northern Territory it is against the law for someone to:

  • have or attempt to have sexual intercourse with someone without their consent when they know or are reckless about the lack of consent (sexual intercourse means the insertion of an object, penis or any other part of a person’s body into a vagina, anus or mouth of another person. It also includes oral sex);
  • sexually touch another person without their consent (indecent assault). This could include unwanted kissing or touching, such as groping. It can also involve threatening to touch someone in a sexual way without their consent;
  • do other kinds of sexual activity without consent (these are called acts of ‘gross indecency’); or 
  • coerce someone to engage in self-manipulation (this means that they force someone to put an object into their own vagina or anus). 

There are also other laws that apply to sexual behaviour towards children and young people who are under the age of 16 (or over the age of 16 but under the special care of the offender), including:

  • having sexual intercourse or committing a sexual act with a young person who is under the age of 16; 
  • maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person under the age of 16 (this is where have committed at least three sexual crimes against a young person); 
  • a person in authority (like a parent, teacher, doctor etc.) having sexual intercourse or committing an act of gross indecency with a young person aged between 16 and 18; 
  • attempting to force or influence a young person under 16 to have sexual intercourse or do another sexual act; or
  • exposing a young person under the age of 16 to a sexual act or allowing someone under 16 to sexually touch them. This can include making that child expose any part of their body or taking photos or videos of that child engaging in a private or sexual act.

What is consent?

 

Consent means free and voluntary agreement. It is against the law to do a sexual act to, or with, someone without their consent.

The legal age of consent in the Northern Territory is 16. This means that a person under 16 years of age cannot consent to sexual activity.

In the Northern Territory, there is a legal defence which can be raised when someone is charged with a crime for having sex with someone under 16. This defence can apply if someone had sex (or did another form of sexual activity) with someone aged 14 or 15 and they reasonably thought that person was aged 16 or older. However, raising a defence like this can be complicated! 

Unlike some other states, there is no exception or legal defence in the law in the Northern Territory which applies when two young people who are both under 16 and are the same age, or close in age, have sex. What this means is that it is not legal for two 15 year olds (or a 15 year old and a 13 year old) to have sex, because no-one under the age of 16 can legally consent to sex!

Consent is more complicated than just believing that 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. You cannot freely and voluntarily consent to sexual intercourse if: 

  • there is force or harm involved, or fear of force or harm; or
  • you are unlawfully detained; or
  • you are asleep, unconscious or so affected by alcohol or another drug that you cannot freely consent; or
  • you are not able to understand the sexual nature of the act; or
  • you are mistaken about the sexual nature of the act or the identity of the other person; or
  • you mistakenly believe that the act is for medical or hygienic purposes; or 
  • you agree because of a false representation as to the nature or purpose of the sexual act.

If you are thinking of doing something sexual with someone else, it is really important that you make sure you know how old the other person is, and check that they agree to the sexual act. You should take reasonable steps to make sure the other person consents. This might include:

  • 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 the other person’s body language to see if they look uncomfortable
  • making sure you are both in a good headspace (for example, being careful if you have taken drugs or are intoxicated so that you have a clear mind about whether the other person has consented)

Just because a person stays silent or doesn’t physically resist the sexual advances it does mean they give their consent. 

It is also important to know that just because someone has consented in the past, it does not mean that they have given consent to anything in the future. Consent needs to be given every time you have sex or do something sexual with another person. 

You can find out more on our page on consent.

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.

Sexual abuse is never okay.  

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:

  • Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) provides counselling, supports, referrals to other services and medical help (24 hour medical help only available in Darwin and Alice Springs centre). SARC services are located in:
  • Darwin            Ph: 8922 6472
  • Katherine                    Ph: 8973 8524
  • Tennant Creek           Ph: 8962 4361
  • Alice Springs               Ph: 8955 4500, after-hours: 0401 114 181
  • Ruby Gaea (Darwin Centre Against Rape) provides free, confidential counselling for any woman or child who has been sexually assaulted at any time in their life. You can call them on (08) 8945 0155 or visit their website here.
  • 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.

Reporting to police

 

If you have been sexually abused, you can make a report to the 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.

You can take a support person with you when you speak to police, such as a friend or family member. Sexual assault counsellors can also support you through the police process.

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 the 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.

Compensation and assistance for victims

 

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

  • financial support from the Northern Territory government victim assist scheme to cover costs of things like medical and counselling expenses and loss of earnings (see more information about this scheme below)
  • suing the offender (or an organisation or person that failed to protect you from sexual abuse) in Court
  • support under the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse (for example, in a Church, at school, or in a sporting club), which can include counselling, a payment and an apology.

The Northern Territory government victim assist scheme can provide up to $40,000 to victims of sexual abuse, including $10,000 for financial losses. You generally must apply for compensation within two years of the sexual abuse, but late applications can be accepted in some circumstances. To be eligible, you generally must also report the crime to police within a reasonable time and assist police in their investigation.

If you think you might want to apply for compensation, 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.

Find out more

 

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

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

 

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