Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse.
beginning of content

Sexual abuse

3-minute read

Sexual abuse is when you are forced, pressured or tricked into doing sexual things when you don’t want to. It is sexual abuse even if it is by someone you know and love. This does not make what they are doing okay. No one has the right to sexually abuse you, not even your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Sexual abuse can also be referred to sexual assault. It is generally defined as a sexual activity that you have not consented to. It can refer to a broad range of sexual behaviours that can make you feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened. Sexual abuse can also include:

  • rape (forced unwanted sex or sexual acts)
  • indecent assault (indecent behaviour before, during or after an assault
  • child sex abuse/assault (using power over a child to involve them in sexual activity)
  • incest (sexual offences by relatives)
  • sexual molestation.

If sexual abuse is happening to you, you might think that it's your fault. It isn't. Sexual abuse is never the fault or responsibility of the victim/survivor.

It doesn't matter who the person is that is making you do these things; they are sexually abusing you. If you speak out about it, there are people who care - they will listen to you and help you.

The age of consent in Australia is 16 in every state other than South Australia and Tasmania, where it is 17. In New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, it is an offence for someone in a supervisory role (like a teacher, foster parent, employer or doctor) to have sex with someone in their care who is 16 or 17.

If you are having sex with someone who is above the age of consent and you are underage, it is the person you are having sex with who is in the wrong, not you. If you're over 16 and someone's trying to force you, that's illegal too. The law is there to protect you and keep you safe - not to get you in trouble. Ideally sex should be part of a loving and trusting relationship and if your sexual partner is putting pressure on you, then they are not respecting you or how you feel. You do not have to stay with anyone who is making you do something that you do not want to do.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, the first thing you need to do is go somewhere you feel safe, such as the home of a close friend or family member or even a police station.

Then, if you feel you’re able to, you should consider telling someone you trust what has happened. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or to blame for what has happened to you.

Find out more about sexual assault and abuse helplines.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your sexual abuse, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Protect your child from sexual abuse - NT.GOV.AU

Find out more about protecting your child from sexual abuse.

Read more on NT Health website

Pregnancy - Pregnancy Topics - Survivors of child sexual abuse - pregnancy

Many women have experienced sexual abuse as a child

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Offensive and illegal content complaints | Office of the eSafety Commissioner

Investigating complaints about potential illegal online material and working toward the rapid reporting and removal of online child sexual abuse material.

Read more on Office of the eSafety Commissioner website

Surviving abuse | Abuse and violence | ReachOut Australia

From victim to survivor, hear how one young person refused to let their history of sexual abuse determine their future.

Read more on website

What to do if you want to report sexual assault to the police

You may decide you want to report the sexual assault or sexual abuse to the police. This is an individual decision which only you can make.

Read more on WA Health website

Common myths about sexual assault

There are many myths and untruths about sexual assault and sexual abuse. These are often disguised as facts or are community held beliefs. These myths can make it hard for people to recover because they tend to blame the victim and defend the perpetrator.

Read more on WA Health website

Have you been sexually assaulted or sexually abused in the past?

Sexual violence can have a lasting impact on a persons life. It can affect relationships and can impact on a persons sense of self worth. Many people find that counselling is helpful.

Read more on WA Health website

Have you been sexually assaulted or sexually abused in the previous two weeks?

The doctors and counsellors at SARC offer a range of services to people who have been sexually assaulted or raped in the past 2 weeks. It is up to you what services you want to accept.

Read more on WA Health website

What is sexual harassment? | Abuse and violence | ReachOut Australia

Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual behaviour thats offensive, humiliating or intimidating.

Read more on website

Sexual assault information for men

There are specific issues that affect men who have been sexually assaulted or abused.

Read more on WA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo