Sexual assault is a major health and welfare issue in Australia and worldwide. For many victims, the effects can be wide-ranging and lifelong. They can experience physical injuries, long-term mental health effects, and disruption to everyday activities such as eating and sleeping habits (ABS 2017; Cashmore & Shackel 2013; Hailes et al. 2019).

According to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS):

  • almost 2 million Australian adults had experienced at least 1 sexual assault since the age of 15
  • more than 200,000 (1.1%) Australian adults had experienced sexual assault in the 12 months before the survey—an increase from 2012 (0.7%)
  • around 639,000 Australian women experienced their most recent incident of sexual assault perpetrated by a male in the last 10 years.

Between 2010 and 2018, rates of sexual assault victimisation recorded by police for Australians aged 15 and over rose by more than 30% (from 66.8 to 90.2 per 100,000) (based on ABS 2019). However, it is unclear whether this reflects an increased incidence of sexual assault, an increased propensity to report sexual assault to police or increased reporting of historical crimes. Rates for children aged 0–14 remained stable in the 5 years up to 2018 (based on ABS 2019).

In 2018–19, the majority of sexual assault offenders recorded by police were male (97%); males aged 15–19 had the highest offender rates (102.9 per 100,000) of any age group (based on ABS 2020a). Over half (57%) of offenders found guilty of perpetrating sexual assault were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution (based on ABS 2020b).

Drawing together available national data sources, this report provides a summary of sexual assault in Australia. However, several notable data gaps exist, including data on a range of health services and other crisis and long-term service responses.