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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 as 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 or under.

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: November 2019

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

Find out more about protecting your child from sexual abuse.

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Preventing child sexual abuse | Raising Children Network

Preventing child sexual abuse starts with your family and community. Prevent abuse by developing family safety rules and working with local organisations.

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Child sexual abuse: what it is, what to do | Raising Children Network

Child sexual abuse is when adults or older children involve children in sexual activity. Sexual abuse is never a child’s fault. Read how to protect children.

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Child sexual abuse: signs of a perpetrator | Raising Children Network

People who sexually abuse children are likely to be people you know. Signs include buying a child expensive gifts or trying to spend time alone with a child.

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Child sexual abuse: talking to kids 0-11 | Raising Children Network

Talking about child sexual abuse helps protect children aged 0-11 years. You can talk about feeling unsafe, inappropriate touch, secrets and saying ‘no’.

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Child sexual abuse helplines & services | Raising Children Network

If children or teens have experienced child sexual abuse, call police on 000. You can also call state or territory child protection services. Get contacts.

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National Redress Scheme - Services Australia

Support for people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse.

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Illegal and harmful content | eSafety Commissioner

How to deal with child sexual abuse material and other prohibited online content.

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Many women have experienced sexual abuse as a child

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Signs of sexual abuse in children & teens | Raising Children Network

Children and teenagers might not tell you about sexual abuse. Instead you might notice signs of sexual abuse, like physical, emotional or behaviour changes.

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