Sexual violence and harm

Research priority.

Sexual assault is a common form of family violence and is recognised as being an indicator of heightened family violence risk. Intra-familial sexual assault is underreported, and women and children are overwhelmingly the victims.

The Royal Commission recognised that sexual violence and harm is a common form of family violence and often an indicator of heightened family violence risk. This includes sexual violence and harm within intimate partner relationships and within the broader family, including abuse of children and older people.

Sexual violence and harm also occurs in public, social, institutional, online and workplace contexts and can be perpetrated by strangers or by people known to the victim survivor including single incident and protracted abuse. All types of sexual violence, assault, abuse, harassment and sexualised behaviours of concern are within the scope of this research agenda priority.

Sexual violence and harm is a gendered issue. Women and children are predominantly victim survivors and men predominantly perpetrators. Sexual violence and harm is also experienced at a much higher rate by some groups of people including Aboriginal people and women with disabilities. Victim survivors of sexual violence and harm can experience immediate, ongoing and severe impacts, including poorer mental, physical and sexual health, and impacts to interpersonal relationships. Victim survivors may also experience social exclusion and victim blaming.

Many victim survivors experience barriers in reporting, access to the justice system and other support services. Like family violence, sexual violence and harm is underreported, under-prosecuted and under-convicted.

Priority research areas under the subject area of sexual violence and harm include:

  • improved approaches for changing social norms and societal attitudes to sexual violence and harm, including attitudes that underpin victim blaming and discrimination against victim survivors
  • prevalence and drivers of sexual violence and harm including how these vary across communities and contexts
  • research that provides insight into the patterns and types of sexual violence and harm used by perpetrators including:
    • connections between perpetration of sexual violence and other forms of violent and criminal behaviour, including family violence
    • technology-facilitated harm and violence, including image-based abuse, online grooming, and other emerging methods of sexual violence and harm
  • research that strengthens our understanding of the impacts of sexual violence and harm for victim survivors including:
    • the differing experiences of sexual violence and harm for victim survivors across cohorts, groups and communities
    • physical and mental health, including risks of suicide, self-harm and substance abuse
    • social inclusion, connection and interpersonal relationships
    • contact with the criminal justice system, including as offenders
  • increasing our understanding of access to and effectiveness of services in response to sexual violence and harm including:
    • identifying key settings and circumstances that support early identification and intervention, including how this may differ across types of environment in which the sexual violence and harm occurred, and with a focus on both victim survivors and perpetrators
    • understanding the barriers for victim survivors in reporting and/or accessing services and approaches for addressing them
    • identifying how services can support increased confidence and competence of practitioners in asking questions about sexual violence safely and sensitively
    • improving the understanding of attrition of sexual offences through the Victorian justice system, including of the causes of attrition and identifying practical ways to improve reporting and address attrition
    • effective trauma informed approaches that support immediate and long-term recovery for victim survivors, including those with complex support needs, and those who may have repeated current or historical experiences of violence and abuse
    • effective service responses for perpetrators of sexual violence and harm, including consideration of variations in effectiveness across types of violence and the environment in which it occurred.

All research regarding sexual violence and harm should consider the differences in experiences and impacts across groups and communities, including for:

  • Aboriginal people
  • victim survivors of childhood institutional abuse, building on the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
  • women who have experienced incarceration
  • people who work in the sex industry
  • people with disability
  • older Victorians
  • people from diverse communities

The Victorian Government is committed to reducing sexual violence and harm and assisting victim survivors to recover from the impacts of sexual violence. To achieve this, we require a fuller understanding of the prevalence of sexual violence and harm and its drivers. We further need a deeper understanding of victim survivors’ experiences and how to best respond to their needs.