Sexual assault reaches all-time high across Australia: Bureau of Statistics

Sexual assault rose 13 per cent across the country last year compared with 2020, as Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed on Thursday that 85 people a day were sexually assaulted in 2021.

About 87 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, the bureau’s Will Milne said, meaning the true number is significantly higher than the 31,118 reported to police in 2021.

Former Australian of the year Grace Tame (right) has advocated for victims of sexual assault and former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins (left) has alleged she was sexually assaulted inside Parliament House.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

A similar increase in NSW last year was ascribed by Attorney-General Mark Speakman in part to news coverage of then-Australian of the year Grace Tame’s advocacy for victims of sexual assault and former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegation she was sexually assaulted inside Parliament House.

“While this spike comes off the back of intense media coverage and long overdue public discussion of sexual violence in our communities, it also demonstrates what we already knew, that these crimes are significantly under-reported each day,” Speakman said in April last year about an increase in reports in March 2021.

NSW reports crime statistic data every three months, while the ABS releases Australia-wide data annually.

Full Stop Australia’s director of counselling services Tara Hunter said dialogue around sexual assault might be part of the increase in reports police are seeing.

“These conversations allow people who have experienced sexual violence to have some understanding that this was a crime,” she said.

“We certainly saw an increase in demand in our services because people who haven’t disclosed for many years come forward.”

The increase – part of a trend that has seen the highest rate of victimisation since the ABS started keeping data – could also be a reflection that sexual assault is increasing, Hunter said.

“Let’s not shy away from the fact that maybe this is an increasing crime. Maybe it is.”

The data shows that 61 per cent of victims – 3272 boys and 15,604 girls – were underage, while women are six times more likely than men to be sexually assaulted.

A home was the location of 67 per cent of sexual assaults and 94 per cent did not involve a weapon.

More than a third of sexual assaults – 37 per cent – were related to domestic violence.

“We need to break down the stereotypes about a stranger as you’re walking home at night. We know this is happening in people’s homes and it’s usually someone you know,” Hunter said.

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