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South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Facts about sexual assault

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Who does sexual assault happen to?

"I used to think that rape was really unusual, but after it happened to me I found out that lots of my women friends had been assaulted at some time or other too" - sexual assault survivor.

Sexual assault is an expression of power. It is not a product of an "uncontrollable" sexual urge. It usually happens, therefore, to the less powerful members of our society - that is, children (both boys and girls) and women.

Researchers have estimated that:

  • One out of ten women will be raped in their lifetime (Offir, 1975; Haines 1985).
  • Thirty eight percent of girls and nine percent of boys will be sexually assaulted in some way by the time they are 18 years of age (Finkelhor, 1979; Russell, 1983; Goldman, 1986).
  • Approximately ninety-three percent of adult sexual assault victims are women (West, 1986; Finkelhor, 1979; Baker & Duncan, 1985).
  • In one out of ten homes incest is taking place (National Coalition Against Sexual Assault Conference Papers, 1987).

People can be sexually assaulted from when they are a few days old, right through to when they are in their 90's. People can be assaulted regardless of their colour, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability or disability.

Who commits sexual assault?

"I didn't think that anyone would believe me because he was such a ‘nice’ man and so well respected in the community" - sexual assault survivor.

The overwhelming majority of the people who sexually assault others are male. This does not mean that most men assault people! However, when studied by psychiatrists, only a tiny proportion of the men who commit sexual assault appear to have any mental illness or abnormality. Some have had experiences that have left them feeling powerless, such as emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse, however, this does not usually seem to have been the case. In addition there are societal attitudes which may contribute to men committing sexual assault. For example, our society permits and encourages aggressiveness in males.

Most sexual assaults are premeditated and well-planned and are committed by someone known to the victim. They are not usually spontaneous or impulsive acts committed by strangers lurking in dark streets. Neither is sexual assault brought about by the dress or behaviour of the person assaulted. Sexual assault is the sole responsibility of the assaulter.

Researchers have found that:

  • Ninety-seven percent of sex offenders are male (Finkelhor, 1984; Shapcott, 1987).
  • Eighty percent of adult sexual assault victims know the offender (Amir, 1971; Russell, 1984; Hall, 1985).
  • Seventy-six percent of female and seventy percent of male child sexual assault victims know the offender (Finkelhor, 1979).
  • In the overwhelming majority of instances of child sexual offence, the perpetrator is the father, stepfather, mother's de facto partner, brother, uncle or grandfather of the victim (Finkelhor, 1979).

Rape can, and does, occur in marriage and between "dates" and "friends". Researchers have estimated that rape occurs within approximately seven to twelve percent of all marriages (Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985; Russell, 1982). Marriage or acquaintanceship does not mean that a man has any right, legal or otherwise, to carry out sexual acts against a woman's will.


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