About sexual assault
Sexual assault is any unwanted and forced sexual behaviour that happens without a person’s consent. It can include touching, kissing, and vaginal, oral or anal penetration.
Sexual assault can happen between two people who are in a romantic relationship. It can also happen between friends, family members, acquaintances or strangers. Sometimes more than one person at a time commits sexual assault.
Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault.
And everyone who has experienced sexual assault needs help and support for their physical, psychological and social wellbeing.
If your teenage child has been sexually assaulted and you or your child is worried about safety, immediately contact emergency services on 000. Try to get your child to a safe place.
Consent: what is it?
Consent is when one person asks another to engage in sexual activity, and the other person responds with a voluntary, conscious and active ‘yes’.
You can’t give consent if you:
- are threatened or verbally or physically forced – for example, ‘You can’t lead me on all night and not give me oral – that isn’t fair’, ‘I know you want to …’ or ‘If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll post that nude to Instagram’
- are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
- don’t understand the consequences of sexual contact, or don’t fully understand what you’re being asked to do
- are under the legal age for sexual consent
- are unconscious, semiconscious or irrational.
If your teenage child experiences sexual assault, it’s not your child’s fault. The person who commits sexual assault is solely and fully responsible for their actions.
If your teenage child tells you about a sexual assault
If your teenage child has been sexually assaulted, they’ll probably be very distressed. Your child might be teary, clingy, angry or in denial. Or your child might not show any outward signs of distress at all.
There are things you can do to support your child when they’re telling you about experiencing sexual assault:
- Listen to your child without interrupting. Avoid asking detailed questions. Just let your child talk. If your child doesn’t want to talk now, let them know that you’ll listen whenever they’re ready. Nothing is so awful that your child can’t talk about it.
- Stay calm on the outside, even if you’re feeling many strong emotions – like anger, worry, guilt and so on – on the inside.
- Believe what your child is telling you. Tell your child that you believe them, even if what they’re saying seems unreal or doesn’t make sense at first.
- Let your child know you love them and that they’re brave to tell you.
- Be there in case your child wants to share more. This might mean staying at home with your child, taking time off work, picking your child up from school, university or work and so on.
- Check in with your child regularly.
- Tell your child it’s not their fault and they’re not to blame – and remind yourself that you’re not to blame either.
- Don’t assume anything about what happened or how your child is feeling.
- Talk with your child about how you can help them feel safe and loved. Be prepared to do what your child needs you to do.
Being clear about sexual contact or activity
Teenagers sometimes consent to sexual contact or sexual activity that they regret afterwards.
This can happen when the sexual contact or activity doesn’t go the way they hoped or expected, when the other person behaves badly afterwards, when they misunderstand each other’s feelings and so on. Sometimes this can lead to allegations of sexual assault, even when the teenagers might have consented to the sexual contact or activity at some point.
It’s important to be clear about what happened. It’s OK to calmly ask teenagers about the sequence of events and whether they might have consented to some things but not others.
After sexual assault
After a sexual assault, many parents want their child to take action.
This might include reporting the sexual assault to police, seeking medical care, starting legal processes, getting counselling and seeking compensation.
You can help by finding out about the processes and services available following sexual assault. If you have this information, you can help your child make informed decisions about the next steps. And when your child decides, being informed will also help you accept those decisions.
To find out about your child’s options for support, you could start by contacting:
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service – call 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.
If your child is under 18 years of age, medical practitioners, psychologists, teachers, social workers and youth workers will most likely be legally required to report the sexual assault. Your local Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA), Rape Crisis Centre or SACL (Sexual Assault Crisis Line), along with police, can talk with you and your child about the criminal justice process and your legal rights.
Reporting sexual assault to the police
Sexual assault is a serious crime.
Contacting the police is usually the first step for young people following a sexual assault. But deciding whether to report a sexual assault to the police can be a difficult decision. Your child will need your support to decide and report the assault.
It might help to know that when you or your child reports the sexual assault to the police, you’ll speak with officers who are specially trained in helping young people after sexual assault. These officers can support you and your child and can explain what to expect – for example, whether you can stay with your child through the process.
The police can help your child with getting a medical examination and care from support services. They can also make sure your child has privacy when making a statement about the assault.
The police will use the information your child gives them to investigate the incident. If the case proceeds your child might also have to go to court as part of the criminal justice process.
There’s no time limit on reporting sexual assault to the police, but an earlier report is best. This can help the police investigation.
Medical care after sexual assault
You can take your child for medical care at a hospital or health centre after a sexual assault.
A doctor will:
- examine your child and check for physical injuries
- talk with your child about the possibility of pregnancy and emergency contraception
- talk about and test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- talk about how to manage the emotional effects of sexual assault.
Forensic medical examination
If your child gets medical attention shortly after the assault, your child can also choose to undergo a forensic medical examination. This kind of examination is carefully documented and done by specially trained doctors. It collects evidence that will be important for the police and court.
A forensic medical examination involves:
- having the examination as soon as possible after the sexual assault – there is more evidence within the first 72 hours
- collecting samples like traces of semen, saliva and hair.
If your child is under 16 years of age, you’ll need to give your consent for the forensic medical examination.
Teenagers sometimes change their minds following these examinations and decide not to follow through with police investigation. If your child doesn’t go ahead with a police investigation after the forensic medical examination, the forensic paediatrician can let you know what happens next with the medical samples.
Help and support during medical examinations
Your child will need your help and support with decision-making during the medical care and examination process. You can ask the doctors what to expect, including whether you can stay with your child.
Your child will also have a counsellor or an advocate throughout the forensic medical examination. This person’s role is to provide support, psychological assessment and care. This person can explain your child’s legal rights and what’s involved in the medical and legal process. This person can also let you know about how to best support your child after a sexual assault.
Counselling after sexual assault
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience. If your teenage child has been sexually assaulted, a counsellor can help, particularly if your child:
- has overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness or guilt
- shows noticeable changes in sleep patterns, appetite, behaviour or concentration
- has thoughts, memories or nightmares that cause anxiety or distress
- has conflict with family or friends
- withdraws from usual activities, or things they used to like doing
- spends more time on their own than usual
- has trouble going to or keeping up at school, university or work.
Counselling can help you, your child and your family understand how the sexual assault has affected all of you. It can also help you all work through and reduce the effect of the assault.
Some young people benefit from counselling at the time of the assault. Others might not be ready yet for counselling, but might benefit from counselling later.
Caring for your child at home after sexual assault
After sexual assault, teenagers often feel powerless and doubt their own self-worth. But there are things you can do to help your child get back a sense of control, freedom and safety:
- Maintain your child’s usual daily routine, like going to school, university or work.
- Encourage your child to keep up with extracurricular activities and going out with friends.
- Keep your home routine predictable.
- Encourage your child to accept offers of support from others.
Your feelings when your child is sexually assaulted
It can be very upsetting if you learn or suspect that your teenage child has been through a sexual assault. You might feel some or all of these things:
- shock or disbelief
- sadness or extreme distress
- numbness or nothing at all.
All of these feelings are normal.
It’s important to look after your own wellbeing so you have the strength to support your child. Talking to friends or family can be a good start, but be clear that you want them to respect your child’s privacy. If you feel you can’t speak about it with people you know, you could try talking with a counsellor who specialises in sexual assault.
You and your partner, if you have one, might have different feelings about this situation. It can be a good idea to seek counselling together to work out how best to support your child and how to manage any stress on your relationship.
Sexual assault crisis lines and services
Here’s a list of services in Australian states and territories that work with young people who have been sexually assaulted.
Contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT or 1800 737 732.
Australian Capital Territory
Contact the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre or phone the crisis line on (02) 6247 2525 between 7 am and 11 pm, seven days a week.
New South Wales
Contact Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia or phone the NSW Rape Crisis line on 1800 424 017, 24 hours.
Contact an NT sexual assault referral centre or phone:
- (08) 8922 6472 (Darwin, 24 hours)
- (08) 8973 8524 (Katherine)
- (08) 8962 4361 (Tennant Creek)
- (08) 8955 4500 (Alice Springs, Monday-Friday, 8 am-4.20 pm)
- 0401 114 181 (Alice Springs, out of hours).
Contact Queensland sexual assault services or phone the Statewide Sexual Assault Helpline on 1800 010 120.
Contact Yarrow Place (Rape and Sexual Assault Service) or phone 1800 817 421 – toll free in South Australia, 24 hours, 7 days a week.
In southern Tasmania contact Sexual Assault Support Service or phone 1800 697 877 – 24 hours, 7 days a week.
In north and north-west Tasmania contact Laurel House – North and North-West Tasmania Sexual Assault Support Services:
- North: (03) 6334 2740 – 8.30 am-5 pm, Monday-Friday
- North-west: (03) 6431 9711 – 9 am-5 pm, Monday-Friday
- North and north-west after-hours crisis line: 1800 697 877.
Contact the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault or phone the 24-hour crisis line on 1800 806 292.
Contact the WA Sexual Assault Resource Centre or phone:
- (08) 6458 1828 (24-hour emergency service)
- 1800 199 888 (freecall, 24-hour emergency service).