Australian Report Found That Women Experience Sexual Violence More Than Previously Thought

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— Content warning: This episode includes discussions of sexual assault. —

It’s national women’s health week and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) has published devastating new findings on the prevalence and impacts of sexual violence on women* in Australia.

Like that more than half of women in their twenties have experienced sexual violence.

“The statistics are actually quite shocking. It tells us that when women are in their forties, it’s 34% [have experienced sexual violence]. And in the age group of 68 to 73 it’s 26%,” Padma Raman, CEO of ANROWS, told Junkee.

“Women with disabilities are much more likely to experience sexual violence. So 73% of women in their twenties versus the 51% 55% of women in their forties, and 34% of that older cohort that we talked about.

These figures are much higher than what the bureau of statistics tells us.”

Australia’s Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health

Australia’s Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health has been collecting sexual violence data since 1996 from more than 57,000 women across four age cohorts.

The incredible study drew from national and state-based administrative health datasets like Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, as well as hospital admission, perinatal and cancer registry datasets. And is the largest project of its kind in Australia.

Padma Raman pointed out that previous studies on the prevalence of sexual violence in Australia, like the bureau of statistics and the personal safety study, usually look at sexual violence at one point in time. Whereas the Longitudinal Study looks at the impacts across the life course.

“That’s why the study is so important in terms of being able to look at what happens to a woman in their twenties, then in their forties and then in their sixties,” Ms Raman said.

“It’s a great way of looking at the long term impacts that sexual violence can have. And it tells us it does have physical, mental and financial impacts on a woman’s life course.”

What Was Found?

The study found alarming rates of re-victimisation: like that women who’ve experienced childhood sexual violence, are 50% more likely to experience it as adults. And that there is a 30 to 40% increase risk of financial stress for women who’ve experienced sexual violence.

“We know that these women have trouble accessing services and there’s a financial impact in accessing services. But we also know that accessing services is what’s gonna help them with their recovery,” Ms Raman said.

Access to social support was found to be vital to the recovery of many of the study’s respondents.

“We know that women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are also affected. So we need to have a very intersectional focus or lens on this, where we know that discrimination or disadvantage can compound and lead to not just compounding impacts of the sexual violence, but also an inability to access the appropriate culturally supportive services that they might need,” Ms Raman explained.

“I think the takeaway from it is the conversations we are having [now] which we weren’t having five years ago, or 10 years ago. [They] are leading to more people in the community understanding what sexual violence looks like and being able to name it and to say it’s not okay.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.

*This article uses the term women to reflect the study explored in this episode. Junkee acknowledges that intersex people are impacted by sexual violence.