What is sexual violence?

When we use the term sexual violence, we are talking about a wide range of behaviours that includes sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Sexual harassment refers to a range of behaviours that make a person feel uncomfortable or unsafe, such as unwanted or offensive comments about their gender, sexuality and/or sex life, wolf-whistling or persistent sexual advances, which may turn into stalking.
Sexual assault refers to unwanted sexual experiences and can involve a person pressuring, coercing, forcing, or tricking another person into doing sexual things they do not want to do.


A sexual assault happens when another person doesn’t want to do sexual things or is unable to say no (for example they might be afraid to, really drunk, or passed out).

Sexual assault can involve groping, touching, kissing or any form of sex. Sexual assault can involve penetration, but is not required to, and can also involve other forms of sex or foreplay, including removing a condom without consent (‘stealthing’).

People who have experienced sexual violence may use different language to describe their experiences, or they may have different feelings about acts.  What is distressing to one person might be brushed off by another. In situations like this, neither person is wrong, so we need to listen to people and trust their own experiences, how their affected and to provide support to them as needed.

Sometimes people might not realise they’ve experienced sexual violence because some behaviours like sexual harassment can be normalised, or they may not think what happened ‘counts’ as sexual violence or even sex. One of the most common myths about sexual violence is that it is rare and almost always committed by a stranger, in a public space like a dark alley. However, it is much more common for a victim to know the person who caused harm, and the violence is often perpetrated in a private space, like someone’s home. The fact that many people’s experiences of sexual violence doesn’t ‘match up’ with myths, can make it harder for them to recognise and name the violence.

Sexual violence is a serious health issue and social problem, and it is something that we can take a stand against and do something about.

  • How prevalent is sexual violence?

    Sadly, sexual violence is common in Australia, and our communities experience sexual violence at higher rates than cisgender heterosexual women. We also know that some communities like women (cis and trans), trans men, non-binary people and bi+ communities experience particularly high rates of sexual violence. Sexual violence can be experienced by anyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and it can also be perpetrated by anyone. LGBTQ+ people sometimes use sexual violence against other LGBTQ+ people, and cisgender heterosexual people, usually cis heterosexual men, can use it against our communities too.

    For an individual, there are lots of factors that make it more or less likely someone will perpetrate or experience sexual violence or be able to tell other people and talk about it. It’s important not to make assumptions about individuals, and really try and understand their experiences.



Rape Culture and Sexual Violence


If reading this content has caused you distress, or made you think you may need support, you can find an LGBTQ+ affirming service here. 

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