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Sexual assault

Sexual assaults recorded by police

Sexual assault is defined by the ABS (2013a: np) as

physical contact, or intent of contact, of a sexual nature directed toward another person where that person does not give consent, gives consent as a result of intimidation or deception, or consent is proscribed (i.e. the person is legally deemed incapable of giving consent because of youth, temporary/permanent (mental) incapacity or there is a familial relationship).

In Australia, there were 17,592 sexual assaults recorded by the police in 2011, with 85 percent committed against females (ABS 2013a).

Estimating the number of sexual assaults

The most recent survey data collected by the ABS concerning sexual assault comes from the PSS 2012 (ABS 2013b). This survey found that 124,800 persons reported experiencing sexual assault in the 12 months preceding interviews that were conducted from February to December 2012. Sexual assault was defined as

an act of a sexual nature carried out against a person’s will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion, and includes any attempts to do this. This includes rape, attempted rape, aggravated sexual assault (assault with a weapon), indecent assault, penetration by objects, forced sexual activity that did not end in penetration and attempts to force a person into sexual activity. Incidents so defined would be an offence under State and Territory criminal law (ABS 2013b: np).

Only persons over 18 years of age were interviewed.

In order to estimate the number of victims of sexual assault aged under 18 years, the ABS (2013c) Recorded Crime data on age of victim was used. This provided a general indication only and is less robust than the ABS PSS Survey data (ABS 2013b) for victims of sexual abuse aged under the age of 15 years who were unavailable at the time of writing.

ABS Recorded Crime—Victims records the age of victims at the time they become known to police rather than the age that the person became a victim. For example, if a victim was sexually assaulted at age 14 years but did not report the offence until they were 18 years of age, their age as presented in the data in this publication would be 18 years. Therefore, it is not possible to derive an accurate count of victims at the age when they were victimised. In the absence of other data, the proportion of victims aged under 18 years out of the total recorded crime victims was used. In 2011, there were 11,226 persons who were victims of sexual assault in age categories 0–19 years. Proportionally adjusting this for those aged 0–18 years, results in 10,332 persons out of a total of all victims of sexual assault of 17,589 (58.7% aged 0–18 years; ABS 2013c). Using this percentage to inflate the PSS data results in a total estimated number of sexual assault victims of all ages of 198,109. This represents a multiplier of 11.26 times the number of recorded crime victims in 2011. Although this multiplier is much higher than Rollings’ (2008) 5.3 and Mayhew’s (2003b) 5.6, it is in line with the 2011 Home Office revised multiplier for sexual offences of 13.6 published following changes to the methodology used by the Home Office (Home Office 2011).

In terms of injury, estimates of the proportion of sexual assaults that result in an injury, although collected for the PSS are publicly unavailable. In the absence of other available information, data from the CSS were used, which estimated that nearly 28 percent of sexual assaults resulted in an injury (ABS 2003). This yields an estimated 55,471 sexual assaults that involved an injury for 2011.

Medical costs

Following the approach taken by Mayhew (2003b) and Rollings (2008), the average medical costs for assault were applied to sexual assault. The average medical cost for those injured was $950 per incident. Applying this to the 55,471 sexual assaults that were estimated to have involved an injury, the total medical cost is $52.7m.

Lost output

Using Mayhew’s (2003b) approach for lost output, figures for assault were inflated by one-third based on the ratio of people who consider sexual assault ‘very serious’ to those who consider assault ‘very serious’ from the ICVS (see van Kesteren, Mayhew & Nieuwbeerta 2001).

The lost output per incident costs for sexual assault are $53 for incidents where the person was not injured and $6,400 for incidents where the person was injured. The total cost of lost output due to sexual assault is an estimated $363m.

Intangible losses

The same approach used for calculating lost output due to sexual assault was used to estimate intangible losses. The estimated per incident costs of intangible losses due to sexual assault are $530 for incidents where the person was not injured and $5,100 for incidents where the person was injured (see Table 8). In total, the cost of intangible losses is estimated to be $359m.

Table 8 Costs of sexual assaults—medical, lost output and intangible lossesa
Per incident cost ($) Total cost ($m)
Medical Lost output Intangible Medical Lost output Intangible
Injured 950 6,400 5,100 53 355 283
No injury - 53 530 8 76
Average per incident cost 500 1,800 1,800 - - -
Total - - - 53 363 359

a: Totals may not add to sub-components due to rounding

Total costs

The estimated total cost of sexual assault was $775m in 2011 (see Table 9). This is an average incident cost of approximately $3,912. The largest components of sexual assaults costs were the lost output and intangible costs, which were almost identical in cost.

Table 9 Total costs of sexual assault
Per incident cost ($) Total cost ($m)
Injury 12, 450 691
No injury 583 84
Total 3,912 775

Costs of child sexual abuse

Other costs that may need to be attributed to costs of sexual assault in future Costs of Crime reports, include those associated with child sexual abuse. The ABS PSS examined the incidence of sexual abuse, which was defined as

abuse experienced by a person before the age of 15 years from any adult (male or female), including the person’s parents, but excluding emotional abuse.

Sexual abuse included

any act by an adult involving a child (before the age of 15 years) in sexual activity beyond their understanding or contrary to currently accepted community standards (ABS 2013b: np).

Data on sexual abuse were not available for the current research and would need to be considered in any future costs of crime report. Evidence presented to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse may also be useful in calculating the costs associated with the various elements of sexual abuse in the future (see Morgan & Carbonnell 2013).


Last updated
3 November 2017