Reporting on sexual assault

Media backgrounder – February 2012

What is sexual assault?

Currently there is no universally accepted definition of sexual assault in Australia.
Definitions vary, based on the range of behaviours viewed as constituting sexual assault or sexual violence. These might include:

  • sexual harassment;
  • sexualised bullying;
  • unwanted kissing and sexual touching;
  • sexual pressure and coercion; and
  • forced sexual activity.

Definitions may be based on experiential, behavioural, or legal understandings of sexual assault (See Sexual Assault Laws in Australia). The types of behaviours that you will be reporting on will most likely fall into the more serious end of this continuum, and these are the behaviours that are usually recognised as sexual assault. We will be using sexual assault and sexual violence interchangeably in this resource.

Sexual assault is not just a legal concept

The trauma of an experience of sexual assault remains with a person, irrespective of whether sexual assault is legally proven.

Victims/survivors experience a wide range of sexually violent and harmful behaviours and these are not necessarily encapsulated in legal definitions of assault.

This document relates to both male and female victim/survivors

However perpetrators are referred to as male to reflect the fact that the overwhelming majority of sexual offences - against both men and women - are perpetrated by men. Women can also be the perpetrators of sexual violence, though this is a relatively rare occurrence.