About sexual assault
Sexual assault is any unwanted and forced sexual contact that happens without a person’s consent. It includes forced kissing, touching, and vaginal, oral or anal penetration.
A person can’t give consent if the person:
- is threatened, verbally coerced or physically forced
- is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs
- doesn’t understand the consequences of sexual contact
- is under the legal age for sexual consent
- is unconscious, semiconscious or irrational.
Sexual assault can happen between two people who are in a romantic relationship. It can also happen between acquaintances or between strangers. It can happen when the victim is alert and rational or no longer wants the sexual contact.
Both boys and girls can be victims of violence, including sexual assault.
Young people who have experienced sexual assault need help and support for their physical, psychological and social wellbeing.
Sexual assault: never the victim’s fault
If your teenage child has experienced sexual assault, it’s not your child’s fault.
If your child has experienced sexual assault, your child has nothing to be ashamed of. The sexual assault didn’t happen because of the way your child was dressed or the way your child behaved.
Sexual assault is not your fault either. It didn’t happen because of the way you have parented your child.
Sexual assault happens when the person responsible for the assault abuses power, even if that person doesn’t mean to.
If your teenage child tells you about a sexual assault
If your teenage child has been sexually assaulted, he’ll probably be very distressed. He might be teary, clingy, angry or in denial. Or he might keep it bottled up and not show any outward signs of distress at all.
There are things you can do to support your child when she’s telling you about experiencing sexual assault:
- Listen to what your child is saying without interrupting. Avoid asking ‘why’ or asking detailed questions. Just let your child talk about the experience.
- 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, even if it’s upsetting. Tell your child that you believe him, even if the details are sketchy or the information seems extreme.
- Tell your child she’s 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.
- Be there in case your child wants to share more. This might mean staying at home with your child, taking time off work, picking him up from school, university or work and so on.
- Ask your child how you can help her feel safe and loved. Be prepared to follow through.
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 involved 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 normal for you to want to protect your child, especially when your child is upset. But it’s also important to be clear about what happened.
It’s OK to calmly ask teenagers if anything happened that they regret. This can help you explore the circumstances leading up to the sexual contact or activity while also being supportive and non-judgmental about what you hear.
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. Exploring the possible consequences of taking action can help your child make an informed decision.
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 what to do. And when your child decides, being informed will also help you accept your child’s decisions.
To find out about your child’s options for support, you could start by contacting the National Sexual Assault Helpline on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.
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 for some young people.
It might help to know that when you or your child reports the sexual assault to the police, you’ll speak with specially trained officers. These officers can guide and support you and 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 can help the police investigation.
Medical care after sexual assault
Your child can go to a hospital or health centre to get medical care after a sexual assault.
A doctor will:
- check for any physical injuries
- talk with your child about the possibility of pregnancy and using 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 seeks 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 than there is a week later
- collecting forensic medical evidence 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 to proceed.
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.
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 you can 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 is having:
- overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness or guilt
- noticeable changes in sleep patterns, appetite, behaviour or concentration
- thoughts, memories or nightmares that cause anxiety or distress
- conflict or little communication with other people in the family
- 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 impact 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, work and 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.
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 – 1800RESPECT or phone the 24-hour crisis line on 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, including Christmas and public holidays.
New South Wales
Contact NSW Rape Crisis or phone the 24-hour crisis line on 1800 424 017.
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)
- 0401 114 181 (Alice Springs).
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)
- (08) 8226 8777 (9 am-5 pm).
In southern Tasmania contact Sexual Assault Support Service or phone 1800 697 877 (24 hours, 7 days).
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 MYSUPPORT (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).