Should I stay with my partner or leave?
There's a lot to consider when a relationship feels like it's coming to an end.
Women and children of all ages and backgrounds experience sexual assault. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. And because sexual assault is usually perpetrated by people they know, many women and children don’t report assaults due to fear, shame or the feeling that they will be blamed or not believed. Those who do, can have very negative experiences of the legal system, and can also experience a lack of understanding from family and friends who are not sure how to best support them.
It’s important to understand that sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about power. Sexual assault is a crime that has far reaching emotional, social, medical, political and legal consequences. It is a widespread problem that reflects how the basic human rights of women and children are undervalued in our society.
Sexual assault can take various forms, some of which are criminal offences. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual behaviour, whether from a man or a woman, which causes humiliation, pain, fear or intimidation. It includes rape, incest, child abuse, and unwanted or unwelcome kissing and touching. It also includes behaviour that does not involve actual touching. Forcing someone to watch pornography or masturbation, for example, constitutes sexual assault.
Women or children who have been sexually assaulted, whether recently or in the past, will be affected in different ways. For example, depending on the community they live in, they could experience different levels of support and acceptance of their assault.
There is no ‘correct’ response to abuse. Experiencing or witnessing an assault, or supporting a friend or a member of the family who’s been assaulted, can be emotionally traumatic and damaging.
While it’s important to understand that everybody’s response is different, it’s quite common for women or children to experience immediate shock, fear and anger after an assault. Later, it is quite normal for them to feel guilty and depressed. Common responses include:
The many myths that surround sexual assault are actually very destructive. Such misconceptions help disguise how widespread sexual assault is and how traumatic the effects can be. By shifting the blame away from the perpetrator, these myths contribute greatly to women and children feeling isolated and bad about themselves. Here are just a few:
There are many groups and organisations throughout Victoria, which provide help and support. Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs) are located throughout Victoria, and offer 24 hour crisis services, including counselling, support, advocacy and advice on medical and legal options. CASAs also offer support and information to adult survivors of childhood sexual assault and to people who are supporting someone who has been sexually assaulted. Help and support is given to children at the Gatehouse Centre.
This is entirely up to you. If you are feeling unsure, it’s a good idea to contact a CASA and discuss your options with one of their experienced and supportive workers. They are happy to listen to what you have to say, provide you with information, and will respect your needs and what you decide to do. If you have been the victim of a same-sex assault, you can ask to speak to a Victoria Police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer.
As the victim or as a person adversely affected by a violent crime or childhood sexual assault, you may be able to get financial assistance from the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). This assistance can cover expenses such as counselling and medical expenses, loss of income and replacement clothing. You may even be entitled to special financial assistance for pain and suffering.
You may feel that you will not be believed if you tell someone about your experience. You may have already had the experience of not being believed. As difficult as it may be, the first step to dealing with any form of sexual abuse is to confide in an experienced counsellor or someone you trust and who will really listen to you. It will also affirm that the abuse is not your fault and help establish support networks
Trying to support someone who has been sexually assaulted, whether recently or in the past, can be painful and confusing at times. It’s often difficult to know how to act, and what to say. You may find it helpful to get professional advice. However these simple ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ may be useful as a guide.
Every woman’s experience and reaction to abuse is different. And because of the powerful effects of emotions like shame, self blame, fear and hurt, the steps to recovery are not simple or straightforward. When women continue to blame themselves and take responsibility for the behaviour of others, the vicious cycle of hurt and fear continues. Often the abuse and its impacts need to be understood before recovery can begin. For women and children who have been sexually abused, learning to respect and trust themselves and others is not easy, particularly where trusting relationships with family, partners or friends have been scarred by the abuse. All women will need support to deal with the abuse. This may include sharing the impacts of the abuse with a supportive listener, having counselling, or joining a support group.
Behaviour of a sexual nature that is unwelcome, unasked for, and unreturned is illegal. It can be perpetrated by a man or a woman. It can be physical, verbal or written, and includes sexual requests or advances, comments about a person’s sex life or appearance, suggestive behaviour such as leering or ogling, displaying sexually offensive material, physical contact such as brushing up against someone, unwanted touching or fondling. All people have the right to be free from sexual harassment. But as with all sexual abuse, women often feel isolated, and made to feel they’re in the wrong if they assert this right. Taking action against sexual harassment can be difficult, so it helps to get support from people you trust to do this. To find out more about the law, and how to make a complaint, you can contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
For information about how to explore your legal options see the WIRE information sheet Getting Legal Advice.