Facts & Figures
Understanding the types of statistics available and what they are measuring is extremely important.
Statistics carry significant power and persuasion. At one level they appear to provide an instant and accessible way of grasping the nature and extent of social issues. Yet any statistic has a complex methodological history, which affects how it can, and should, be used. This is important to remember when attempting to determine the extent of sexual assault. A range of factors such as barriers to disclosure, the low rate of reporting to police, varying definitions of sexual assault and abuse, and the complexity of recording and counting such information make this a particularly hidden type of violence.
Sexual assault statistics are based on two main types of data*:
- victimisation survey data - data collated from surveys conducted with individuals, asking them about their experiences of sexual assault victimisation, regardless of whether they have reported to police; and
- administrative data - data extracted through the various systems that respond to sexual assault (e.g., police, courts, corrections or support services).
The figures presented here are intended to provide the most up-to-date estimates of the levels of both reported and unreported sexual assaults that occur in Australia.
Key findings in relation to gender of victims and offenders are also provided.
The following titles will lead you to the statistics that you need.
* This information is an extract from ACSSA Resource Sheet The nature and extent of sexual assault and abuse in Australia. It includes further information on data types relating to sexual assault statistics.
1. Victimisation survey data
- Crime Victimisation Survey
- Personal Safety Survey
- National Crime and Safety Survey
- International Violence Against Women Survey - figures for Australia
- Women's Safety Survey
2. Administrative data
(OCSAR) The South Australian Office of Crime Statistics & Research
The OCSAR, housed within the Attorney General's Department, is responsible for research into (and monitoring of) crime trends and the criminal justice system within South Australia. OCSAR publish the annual online application Crime Mapper which shows the geographic distribution of recorded crime across South Australia.
Crime Victimisation Survey (CVS)
Data on Crime Victimisation were collected as part of the 2011–12 Multipurpose Household Survey (MPHS), involving 26,382 fully responding households, representing a response rate of 80%. The ABS conducted National Crime and Safety Surveys in 1975, 1983, 1993, 1998, 2002 and 2005. In 2006–07, a review of these crime surveys found the need for more timely and regular crime victimisation headline indicators (on an annual basis), and the need for flexibility to cater for new and emerging areas of crime.
The survey estimates the extent of victimisation of family, domestic and/or sexual violence experienced for both personal and household crimes, regardless of whether they were reported to police.
In 2010–11, for the first time victims of physical assault and face-to-face threatened assault aged 15 and over who were personally interviewed were asked whether they believed alcohol or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident of assault.
Personal Safety Survey 2012
On 11 December 2013, the ABS re-issued the results of the nationally representative Personal Safety Survey presenting information about women's and men's experiences of violence. The ABS define sexual assault as "an act of a sexual nature carried out against a person's will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion". Sexual violence is defined as including sexual assault and sexual threat.
- During the 12 months prior to the survey, 8.7% of all men over 18 years of age, and 5.3% of all women over 18 years of age had experienced some form of violence
- Both women and men who experienced violence in the last 12 months, were more likely to have experienced physical violence than sexual violence
- In 2012 an estimated 17% (1,494,000) of all women aged 18 years and over had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.
- In 2012 an estimated 4% (336,000) of all men aged 18 years and over had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.
- Both women and men were more likely to experience sexual violence that is perpetrated by a known person rather than a stranger.
- For women the most likely type of known perpetrator of sexual violence was a boyfriend/girlfriend or date. For men, the most likely type of known perpetrator of sexual violence was acquaintance or neighbour
Changes in statistics since 2005
- There was no statistically significant change in rates of physical violence against women since the 2005 Personal Safety Survey
- There was a small statistical decrease in the rates of physical violence against men since the 2005 Personal Safety Survey, from 10.8% in 2005, to 8.7% in 2012
The following infographics highlight some findings from the recent Australian Bureau of Statistics release of the 2012 Personal Safety Survey. For more information please see the full report.
National Crime and Safety Surveys 2005
(includes reported and unreported incidents)
In 2005, there were an estimated 44,100 persons aged 18 years and over who were victims of at least one sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey; a victimisation prevalence rate of 0.3%. Approximately 72,000 incidents of sexual assault were experienced by these victims. For information specific to the quality and extent of sexual assault data collected in 2005, see paragraph 23 of the Explanatory Notes.
International Violence Against Women Survey: the Australian Component (2004)
A total of 6,677 women aged between 18 and 69 years participated in the telephone survey between December 2002 and June 2003, and provided information about their experiences of both physical and sexual violence. Women who participated were asked to recount their experiences of violence (including threats of violence) by current and former male partners, other males known to them including family members, acquaintances and friends, and their experiences of violence by strangers. They were also asked to recall instances of childhood violence and abuse.
As the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS) was a telephone survey, participation was limited to women living in private residences who had telephones. This inevitably results in the experiences of particular groups of women being significantly under-represented or excluded entirely; in particular, women who are homeless, in prison, women living in rural or remote communities, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, and women who are not English-speaking. However, the survey did capture the experiences of 92 Indigenous women and 1122 women from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Experiences across women's lifetimes (IVAWS)
- Over half of the women surveyed (57%) had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime.
- More than a third of women (34%) had experienced this violence from a former or current partner, although violence from a former partner was more common, and more likely to result in women being injured and feeling that their lives were in danger.
- 12% of women reported experiencing sexual violence by an intimate partner (current or former) over their lifetimes, including instances of attempted (3%) and completed (6%) forced intercourse (i.e. rape).
- Women who had experienced sexual violence by their intimate partners were also likely to have been physically abused by them (73%).
- 18% of women reported being sexually abused before the age of 16: almost 2% of women identified parents (fathers in all but two cases) as the perpetrators, while a further 16% identified someone other than a parent. The results suggest that the risk of sexual violence in adulthood doubles for women who experience child abuse.
- 27% of women reported sexual violence by non-intimates such as other close family members, relatives, friends, colleagues and strangers (although a number of women reported violence from both intimate partners and others). 7% of these women reported attempted forced intercourse and 4 percent reported forced intercourse over their lifetime.
- Only 1% of the women surveyed identified having been raped by a stranger.
Women's experiences in the 12 months prior to the survey (IVAWS)
- 10% of women had experienced at least one incident of physical and/or sexual violence in the past 12 months. They were more likely to report physical violence (8%) than sexual violence (4%).
- With respect to sexual violence, Indigenous women reported three times as many incidents in the previous 12 months as compared with non-Indigenous women.
- Non-English speaking background women reported experiencing roughly the same level of sexual violence in the past 12 months compared with English speaking women. However, English-speaking women reported higher levels of physical and sexual violence when asked about experiences across their lifetimes.
- The findings suggest that particular groups of women are at higher risk:
- Indigenous women reported higher levels of both physical and sexual violence than was reported by non-Indigenous women.
- Younger women reported higher levels of both violence types compared to older women.
- Women who were not in a current relationship tended to be at greater risk of experiencing sexual and physical violence in the previous 12 months than women who were in a current relationship.
Disclosure and reporting to police (IVAWS)
- Only 1 in 7 women (14%) who experienced violence from an intimate partner, and just over 1 in 6 women who experienced violence from someone else (non-partner), indicated that they had reported the most recent incident to police (16%).
- Women who experienced physical or sexual violence from their intimate partners were more likely to report the most recent incident to police if the offender was a former (24%) rather than current husband/partner/boyfriend (8%).
- The degree of satisfaction women reported in terms of their contact with police tended to accord with whether the charges were laid and whether the charges resulted in convictions in court. However, overall, a majority of women indicated that they were satisfied with the way the police had responded. Higher levels of dissatisfaction were reported by women who experienced violence from an intimate partner compared with women who experienced violence by a non-partner.
- Overall, the most common reason why women did not contact police (whether intimate or non-intimate violence was experienced) is because they felt the incident was too minor in nature. However almost half of the women indicated that their reason for not reporting was because they preferred to deal with it themselves, preferred to keep the matter private, or out of shame or embarrassment. Indeed a quarter of women (25%) who identified intimate partner violence through the IVAWS had never before spoken to anyone else about the incident.
Women's Safety Survey 1996
(includes reported and unreported incidents)
The Women's Safety Survey was conducted between February and April 1996 and published in 1996. The survey relied on face-to-face interviews with a random sample of approximately 6,300 women in Australia, aged 18 years and over, who were living in a private dwelling in urban and rural Australia (non-English speaking women were interviewed over the phone with the assistance of an interpreter). The survey investigated women's experiences of physical and sexual violence in the last 12 months, and since the age of 15. It was estimated that, of women living in Australia aged 18 and over:
- 100,000 (1.5%) experienced an incident of sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the study.
- 99% of the perpetrators of sexual violence incidents experienced in the 12 months prior to the survey were men.
- Women in the 18-24 year age bracket were more likely to be assaulted than women in other age-groups: 19% of women aged 18-24 had experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months, compared with 6.8% of women aged 35-44 and 1.2% of women aged 55 and over.
- Only 15% of women who identified an incident of sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey reported to police.
- An estimated 1.2 million women in Australia aged 18 and over had experienced sexual violence or its threat since the age of 15. More specifically, one in six adult women in Australia had experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 years.
- 45% of women sexually assaulted since the age of 15 had experienced more than one incident.
- Sexual assaults occurring since the age of 15 were most commonly committed by a man known to the victim, and usually occurred in a home.
- 1 in 10 women who had ever been in a relationship disclosed an incident of sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia 2012 (Police statistics)
This publication presents national crime statistics relating to victims of a selected range of offences that have been recorded by police. These statistics provide indicators of the level and nature of recorded crime victimisation in Australia and a basis for measuring change over time. As not all crimes are reported to or recorded by police, other data sources can assist in providing a more comprehensive view of crime levels in society.
Changes in this issue: The National Crime Statistics Unit (NCSU) has developed in collaboration with police agencies a National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS). This standard comprises a set of business rules and requirements to guide the recording and counting of criminal incidents by police.
Estimated Resident Population data used to calculate rates and indexes in this issue have changed. See Explanatory Notes paragraphs 115-117.
This publication by the Australian Bureau of Statistics presents information pertaining to offences, case outcomes and sentences associated with defendants. The information on the characteristics of the defendants are received from State and Territory criminal courts.
- Bibliographies - Statistics relating to sexual assault. The latest material added to the Australian Institute of Family Studies library database is displayed
- Australian Bureau of Statistics
- Violence against Women Prevalence Data: Surveys by Country. UN Women, 2011 (PDF 732 KB)
This data table presents a matrix with data available for 86 countries on the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women, forced sexual initiation and abuse during pregnancy.
- National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS) establishes a benchmark against which changes in attitudes can be more closely monitored over time. The results will guide the development and targeting of interventions that can build cultures of non-violence and value equal and respectful relationships between men and women. 2009
- Aware: ACSSA Newsletter No. 13 December 2006 - Results of the Personal Safety Survey 2005 by Zoë Morrison
- Analysis of the 2005 Personal Safety Survey
- The World's Women 2005: Progress in Statistics This report uniquely focuses on national reporting of sex disaggregated statistics in such areas as demographics, health, education, work, violence against women, poverty, human rights and decision-making. This is the fourth World’s Women report since 1990.
- International Violence Against Women Survey (IWAS), 2004
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2004) Sexual Assault in Australia: A Statistical Overview
- ACSSA Briefing No.1 September 2003 - What lies behind the hidden figure of sexual assault? Issues of prevalence and disclosure by Alexandra Neame.
- Australian Institute of Criminology: Female victims of crime statistics, 2002-03
- Australian Bureau of Statistics - Information Paper: Measuring Crime Victimisation, Australia: The Impact of Different Collection Methodologies, 2002
- Women’s Experiences of Male Violence: Findings from the Australian Component of the International Violence Against Women Survey (PDF 2.3 MB) (IVAWS), by Jenny Mouzas and Toni Makkai, Australian Institute of Criminology, 2004
- Infographic: Violence Against Women (PDF 1 MB)