How to Prevent Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is a terrible form of abuse that can cause serious physical, emotional and psychological harm to victims and survivors. It is a very complex issue and the effects can linger for long after an attack. The abuse may leave the victim with a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, trauma and flashbacks, poor self-esteem and substance use problems. It is also known that victims often feel unable to trust others and can be at high risk of further assaults or other forms of abuse.

The crime of sexual assault can be committed against a woman, man or child but most often it is committed against a female victim. Sexual violence is a crime of power and control, perpetrators choose victims that they believe are weaker or more vulnerable than them. This may include young girls, women who are alone or drunk, those with mental health conditions, people from cultural minorities or people with disabilities.

Most sexual assaults are committed by someone that the victim knows – it is usually someone that they have been close to or a family member. In some cases it is a stranger but this is less common. Many of the offenders are men, and it has been suggested that rape is a result of boys being brought up to be aggressive, dominant and conquering in relation to their own and other’s bodies. Patriarchy normalizes this with outdated societal messages such as “boys will be boys”, and “men have sexual impulses and cannot control themselves”.

Sexual assault and exploitation is a serious offence that can be prosecuted in the District Court (serious offences). Most sexual offences are committed by a person against a woman or girl and carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

The most effective way to tackle sexual violence is through prevention. This can be done through primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Primary prevention is about reducing the risk factors and protecting the population, this includes education, community campaigns and providing information on healthy relationships, respect, anti-bullying initiatives. Secondary prevention reduces the likelihood of sexual violence occurring, this includes implementing community safety plans, creating safe spaces and promoting positive behavioural change. Tertiary prevention is about supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence, this includes support services, counselling and trauma recovery.

Be a good friend and a good listener, don’t ask questions that imply blame or shame. It is often difficult for a survivor to talk about the sexual assault/abuse and it can be helpful to offer support to get them through the process. This might be by offering to go with them to the hospital or counseling or just letting them know that you believe them and are there for them. You could even offer to be there for them if they decide to report the sexual assault/abuse to the police. This is a very important step in the process of healing. It is a great honour to be trusted with someone’s innermost feelings and it is important that they be able to speak their truth without fear of judgement.