Statistics on Rape and Sexual Assault
There are three main sources of data about rape and sexual assault.
Police statistics provide data about offences that are reported to police. Only a small proportion of sexual offences are reported to police so this provides an incomplete picture of the incidence of the crime.
Victim surveys ask a random sample of people whether or not they have ever experienced particular things, and make estimates for the whole population based on those samples. While these are not perfect, they provide a much more accurate idea of the actual number of sexual assaults than police data. Some of the most reliable victim surveys are conducted by major Government Departments, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and the South Australian Department of Human Services.
Research projects provide statistics, usually about more specific topics. Care should be taken in interpreting these statistics because they may not apply to the whole population.
The data collected is often not comparable because of the way that questions about sexual violence are asked and the way in which the particular form of sexual violence surveyed is defined.
The statistics below are drawn from different sources of data and, depending on their research definitions, may measure different types of sexual violence.
It is very difficult to know the true extent of sexual violence. According to recent findings, reporting rates for sexual assault have increased from 15% (Australian Bureau of Statistics Women’s Safety Survey, 1996) to 19% in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey 2005. However, this still means that 81% of sexual assaults are not reported. Lievore (2003) lists personal and justice system barriers as reasons for not reporting.
Personal barriers include victims thinking it was not a real crime, that they dealt with it themselves, that they regard it as a private matter, felt same and embarrassment and did not want family or others to know. Fear of reprisal and self blame or blame by others for the attack also kept victims from reporting.
Justice system barriers are beliefs such as fear of being believed by police, thinking the police would or could not do anything, fear of the legal system, thinking there is a lack of proof that the incident happened and not knowing how to report.
Lievore (2003) further points out that minority population groups such as Indigenous and rural women face additional barriers to reporting.
Statistics show that females consistently record higher rates of sexual assault than males, irrespective of age. The majority of sexual assault victims are female (82% in 2003) and the highest victimisation rate for females is in the 15-19 year age group, followed by the 10-14 year age group (ABS Recorded Crime – Victims 2003).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey 2005 found that 126,100 women (1.6%) experienced sexual violence in the previous 12 months. Further findings from this study indicate that 1 in 5 women (1,469,500) experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Overall 45% of women sexually assaulted since the age of 15 had been victims of more than one sexual assault (ABS Women’s Safety Survey, 1996).
The ABS Personal Safety Survey further found that 1 in 20 men (408,100) experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 and 0.6% (42,300) men experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months. Males are most likely to be sexually assaulted below 9 years of age, followed by 10-14 year olds and then 15-19 year old young men (ABS Recorded Crime – Victims 2003). Statistics for the prevalence of male victimisation indicate that between 5 and 10% of all reported rapes in the US and the UK per year are male victims (Scarce, 2001).This coincides with South Australian data with 10% of reported rapes in the year 2000 relating to male victims (Office of Crime Statistics, 2001). It is also known that male victims are much less likely to report the rape to police than female survivors because of the social stigma (a result of myths and misconceptions) that are associated with male survivors of sexual assault.
in their lives since the age of 15.
Research consistently indicates that sexual violence is mostly perpetrated by men. The ABS Women’s Safety Survey 1996 found that 99% of the perpetrators of sexual assault were male.
Sexual assault occurs overwhelmingly in the home environment. The Australian Institute of Crime report on Australian Crime found that 65% of sexual assault occurs in private dwellings (including garages, motels and hostels), 9% in other community settings and 7% of recorded sexual assaults in the street/footpath.(Australian Institute of Criminology, 2005). Similarly, the ABS Women’s Safety Survey 1996 recorded over 55.5 per cent of sexual assaults in private homes, followed by 21% in and around licensed premises and 8.2 per cent in the workplace.
Most female victims (78%) knew the offender (ABS Recorded Crime – Victims 2003) and around one quarter of these women had experienced sexual violence from a former or current partner (ABS, 2005). This compares to only 47% of male victims knowing the perpetrator. (ABS Recorded Crime-Victims, 2003)
The 1996 ABS Women’s Safety Survey found that 26 % of women were physically injured in the most recent sexual assault. Of the women who were sexually assaulted by a previous partner, 49% were physically injured while 8% of women sexually assaulted by their current partner were physically injured.
A Victorian study into the health costs of violence measured the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence (violence by a current or ex partner). The report found that intimate partner violence is the highest contributing factor to disease and premature death for Victorian women aged 15-44 years, higher than known risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, drinking and smoking (Vic Health, 2004).
Research indicates that female victims access support after sexual assault but findings vary. In the Crime and Safety study 87% of female victims of sexual assault indicated they accessed some form of support after the most recent incident. Of these, 68% spoke with a friend or colleague, 41% sought support from a family member and 39% accessed a professional or religious support person (ABS Crime and Safety, 2002). In the 1996 ABS Women’s Safety Survey 59% of women said they spoke to a friend or neighbour, 32% approached a family member and 8.1% contacted a crisis organisation.
Conviction rates for sexual assault continue to be low. Research reviewing the South Australian Office of Crime Statistics figures for 1981-1991 demonstrated that outcomes of guilty as charged for rape and attempted rape were low and falling as a proportion of these offences reported to the police. In 1991, the number of findings of guilty as charged was only 4% of the number of rape offences reported to South Australian police (Heath & Naffine, 1994). Conviction rates have fallen since this time. Over the decade 1993-2002 the rate of convictions as charged for rape and attempted rape has fallen from 3.1% in 1993 to as low as 1.6% of the number of offences reported in 1998 and 2001.
Unwanted Sexual Experiences Survey
The ‘Unwanted Sexual Experiences Survey (Yarrow Place, 2000) was one component of the Young People’s Rape Prevention Project conducted by Yarrow Place in conjunction with three inner city university campuses in Adelaide. The survey was used to gather data about the nature and incidence of sexual harassment, sexual coercion, sexual assault and rape for young people aged 18-25. 722 responses were obtained, of which 689 were deemed valid. Approximately two thirds of respondents were female and one third male.
Of the respondents:
- 83.8% of females and 47.4% of males reported at least one unwanted sexual harassment style experience;
- 59.3% of females and 25% of males reported at least one unwanted sexual assault style experience;
- 35.5% of females and 15.4% of males reported at least one unwanted penetrative sex experience;
- between 12.6% and 35.5% of women; and between 5.3% and 15.4% of men reported experiences when aged 16 or older which meet the legal definition of rape;
- The more serious the experience, the less likely it would be connected to, or to occur at, the university. Nonetheless, about 17% of unwanted penetrative sex experiences had some connection to the university and 7.2% occurred at or within 1km of the university;
- 40.2% of respondents who had had an unwanted experience told someone about the incident. Of those, 92.3% told a friend and only 6.4% told anyone else. Overseas students studying in Australia, people who live on their own or at a residential college were less likely to tell someone about the experience than other respondents;
- The more serious the nature of the experience, the closer the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim is likely to be.
Australian Bureau of Statistics: www.abs.gov.au
Australian Institute of Criminology: www.aic.gov.au
Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault: www.aifs.gov.au/acssa