Something’s happened – I’m not sure if it might be sexual assault or sexual harassment

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Self Care

You may find the information below confronting and challenging.

For some, it may cause distress. Please take care of yourself and reach out for support if you feel you need it. The University has a free and confidential Counselling Service for students.

In addition, University Respect Officers provide specialist support for students who have experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, and family & domestic violence.

If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment, sometimes it can take time to process and fully comprehend what’s happened. If it doesn’t feel right, it can be worth talking through your experience with someone you trust such as a friend or family member – or a University Respect Officer, University counsellor, or an external support service such as 1800RESPECT or Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. An advantage of speaking with one of these specialists is that they have expertise and they can help you to identify if what has happened to you may be sexual assault or sexual harassment. These services can help even if you just want to talk through a situation and don’t want it to go any further. You will be greeted warmly, respected and believed, and you will not be judged.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual behaviour that causes a person to feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It may include:

  • staring or leering
  • brushing up against a person or other unwelcome touching
  • suggestive comments or jokes
  • insults or taunts of a sexual nature
  • intrusive questions about someone’s private life
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • inappropriate advances on social media
  • repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates

Sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced or tricked into sexual acts against their will or without their consent.

Consent occurs when a person freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in a sexual act. Consent cannot be given by people who are:

  • incapacitated due to intoxication or the influence of drugs
  • incapacitated due to their age or intellectual capacity
  • unconscious or asleep
  • under threat of or actual force
  • intimidated, coerced or threatened
  • unlawfully detained or held against their will

tricked or manipulated due to the person being in a position of trust into providing consent

In real life, it is not always easy for a person to recognise if they have been sexually assaulted. That’s why talking to a specialist service (see above) can be helpful.

Here are some examples of what sexual assault can look like – but it can happen in many different ways as well:

  • Student A and Student B go for a drink with friends at a bar. Student A notices that Student B has consumed a lot of alcohol and is intoxicated. Student A encourages Student B to go back to their room to engage in sexual activity – however, Student B is unable to give consent as they are incapacitated due to alcohol intoxication.
  • Student C is at home with her partner, who demands that she engage in sexual activity when she does not want to.
  • Student D and Student E are in classes together at university. Student D has expressed interest in Student E, while Student E has said they feel that Student D is a friend and they do not feel anything more than that. Student D refuses to accept Student E’s response and while they are alone in class after a workshop has finished, Student D attempts to kiss Student E and touch them under their clothing.

Common misconceptions about sexual misconduct

Here are some examples of commonly held misconceptions about sexual assault and sexual harassment – the information below is drawn from a resource developed by Victoria Police and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

MisconceptionReality
Reports of rape and sexual offences are easy to make and difficult to defend National and international research consistently demonstrates that incidents of rape, sexual offences and child sexual abuse are significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted, and under-convicted. There can be many barriers to reporting sexual offences. Due to low reporting levels, conviction rates in Australia are extremely low.
Real victims would report rape and sexual offences immediately The majority of individuals who experience sexual offences delay disclosing and/or reporting, or never disclose/report their experiences. Common reasons include:
  • Shame
  • Confusion, guilt, or shock about the offence
  • Fear of the perpetrator and of consequences of reporting
  • Protecting a perpetrator they know
  • Fear they will not be believed
  • Not recognising what they have experienced as a sexual offence
  • Belief that they are to blame for what has occurred
Real rape victims would sustain physical injuries at the time of the offence.

Offenders typically use physical force against their victims during sexual offending.

Real rape victims would resist and fight off the violent offender.
Most perpetrators have a prior relationship with the victim and do not need to use significant physical violence to commit their sexual offence(s). Some studies have found very low rates of injury caused during sexual offending.

Perpetrators often have power over their victims and may groom their victims into compliance over time; this is not the same as consent.

During the assault, victims may be more likely to freeze and cooperate; this can be a conscious response or they may not be able to control it.
Memory of rape should be clear, coherent, detailed, specific, and not contain any inconsistencies or omissions Victims of one-off traumatic events typically recall only a few clear details, therefore, many details are often lacking. Where they have been repeatedly raped within a relationship it will be difficult to isolate the details of single incidents.

Following rape trauma, a person may not remember everything and different parts of memory may come back at different times. Memories are also vulnerable to impact of alcohol and other drugs, to impacts of previous or current injury, trauma or illness.
Victims affected by alcohol consent to sex but regret it afterwards and allege rape.

People who are very drunk are responsible for their own rape. They could have prevented the rape by drinking less.
The media often focuses on date-rape drugs such as Rohypnol, however alcohol is the most common drug of choice that perpetrators intentionally use to incapacitate a victim before committing a sexual offence.

Many perpetrators are opportunistic and will take advantage of victims who are already drunk and incapacitated. The law assumes a ‘heavily intoxicated’ person is incapable of giving consent.