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Sexual violence covers a wide range of behaviours perpetrated against adults and children. Persistent efforts over the last 30 years have resulted in increased awareness of sexual violence by challenging the idea that it is solely a private matter (Carmody 2009). Sexual assault is perhaps one of the most serious, core components of sexual violence. Sexual assault is a public health matter with potential human, economic and public health related costs (Carmody 2009) and attracts criminal justice sanctions (NCRVWC 2009b).
Sexual assault offences are often under-reported and may be unrecorded, making it difficult to statistically measure the prevalence of sexual assault in the community. It is also associated with other risks that are different from those experienced by people who have suffered other forms of physical violence. These include a greater risk of being killed by their partner (if within an intimate partner relationship or separation), stress-related symptoms, and increased detrimental health effects (physical, emotional, mental health) (Wall 2012). The available evidence suggests that most victims of sexual violence do not report the crime to police, and that many do not access the services available to provide support.
Sexual violence can include behaviours such as sexual harassment, stalking, forced or deceptive sexual exploitation (such as having images taken and/or distributed without freely given consent), indecent assault and rape. Evidence suggests that opportunities for sexual offending are deeply embedded in ordinary, everyday contexts and that women, men and children are primarily assaulted by people they know, such as by partners, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and often in contexts of trust and familiarity (Clark & Quadara 2010). While there is an acknowledgement that sexual violence can occur in non-domestic settings perpetrated by individuals unknown to the victim, incidents perpetrated by strangers are less frequent than supposed.
In considering the components that form a definition of sexual violence it is helpful to differentiate between ‘offence’ and ‘experience’ based definitions. The ‘offence’ based definition is based on behaviours defined in the criminal law of states and territories (and to a lesser extent, Commonwealth law). For statistical purposes, these offences are described in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC), 2011 (cat. no. 1234.0). Beyond the scope of offences detailed in the criminal law, broader conceptions of sexual violence may contribute to an ‘experience’ definition, which acknowledges a broader spectrum of behaviours.
Family and domestic violence and sexual violence: similarities and differences
As previously discussed family and domestic violence and sexual violence share a range of characteristics, as well as some key differences. While sexual violence can overlap or be a feature of family and domestic violence, the dynamics of sexual violence incidents can be very different and occur in the context of a wider range of known relationships between perpetrators and victims, but can also occur where the victim and perpetrator are not known to one another. As such victims of sexual violence may require different formal responses and support to that of victims of family and domestic violence.
Defining the data challenge acknowledges the usefulness of considering these forms of violence in concert, given the commonalities in key research questions and information needs relating to these topics. While recognising the similarities it is important to note that there are specific differences between these concepts, and as such information, where possible, will be collected separately to allow for comparison in analysis.
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