Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is NEVER okay. You have the right to feel safe and protected. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, there are services that you can go to for help.

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

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What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is where someone does something sexual that makes you feel uncomfortable, or touches your body in a sexual way without your consent.

In NSW it is a crime for someone to:

  • have sexual intercourse (which includes any penetration of the anus or female genitalia) with you, without your consent (sexual assault)
  • sexually touch you or force you to sexually touch another person, without your consent (sexual touching)
  • do some other kind of sexual act with or towards you, without your consent (sexual act).

There are also additional laws that apply for sexual behaviour towards children and young people who are under the age of 16, including:

  • having sexual intercourse with a child or young person who is under the age of 16
  • trying to have sexual intercourse with a child or young person who is under the age of 16
  • sexually touching a child or young person who is under the age of 16
  • doing a sexual act with a child or young person who is under the age of 16
  • sexually touching or having sexual intercourse with a young person who is under special care (for example, where the person is a parent, guardian, teacher, carer of a young person)
  • grooming a child or young person who is under 16 – this might include showing sexual pictures or images, telling sexual stories, giving alcohol or drugs or paying money to try and make it easier to do sexual activity with that person.

Consent is not a defence to these crimes unless the similar age defence applies. For more information about this defence, see our page on sex.

What is consent? 

Consent means agreeing freely and voluntarily to a sexual activity. If you are thinking of doing something sexual with someone else, it is really important that you make sure you know how old they are, and check that they agree.

Consent is more complicated than just believing the other person consented. For this reason, it’s always best to check. When considering whether a person knew that a victim did not consent to a sexual act, a Court will look at what steps that person took to make sure the victim consented. This means you should take positive steps to make sure the other person agrees, which might include:

  • asking the person what they want to do (for example, ‘Can I kiss you’ or ‘Do you want to have sex, or do you want to wait?’)
  • looking at their body language to see if they look uncomfortable.

Even if someone says “yes” to a sexual activity, there are some situations in which they still cannot consent. These are: 

  • if one person is under the age of 16 (although there is a defence for young people of a similar age)
  • if one person is under 18, and the other person is a special carer. This includes guardians, teachers, instructors or health professionals like a doctor
  • if the person has a serious mental or intellectual disability
  • if they are unconscious or asleep at the time
  • if they consent because the other person threatens them
  • if they consent because they are being held against their will.

A person might also be found not to have consented because: 

  • they were very intoxicated by drugs or alcohol
  • they did the sexual activity because of threats or intimidating conduct
  • they did the sexual activity because of the abuse of a position of authority or trust.

It is also important to know that just because someone has consented in the past, it does not mean that they have given consent forever. Consent needs to be given every time you engage in sexual activity.

For more information about consent, check out:

What can you do if you have been sexually abused? 

If you are ever in immediate danger, please call the police straight away on 000 (triple zero) and try to get to a safe place. 

If you have been sexually abused, you have the right to be protected and you can report the abuse by calling your local police station. 

If you have been sexually abused, we strongly recommend that you get medical care.  A doctor can test and treat you for any sexually transmitted infections, carry out a forensic examination (if you were abused very recently and you wish to report the crime to the police) and provide information on sexual abuse and follow-up services. 

If you have been sexually abused, it is never your fault. If you feel comfortable, we encourage you to talk to someone you trust like a parent, family member, a close friend or a school counsellor. If you don’t want to tell anyone you know, you might feel more comfortable talking to a counsellor over the phone. You could call:

  • the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 (this is a 24 hour service). They offer a very supportive service and you can talk to them without giving your name. You can also email them at: or use their online chat service for people aged 5-25 at: 
  • 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. They are open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. You don’t need to give your name if you don’t want to, or you can give a different name.

There are other support services that can help you. We have listed some of these at the bottom of this page.

Reporting to police

If you have been sexually abused, you can make a report to police. You can do this by going to your local police station, or ringing the police assistance line on 131 444 (open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). If the abuse just happened, or if it is an emergency, please call the police on 000.

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, you do not have to make a report to police. It is your choice about whether, and if so when, you make a report to police. There are no limits on when you can report sexual abuse to the police, even if sexual abuse happened a long time ago.

However, if you are under 16, and you tell someone else what happened, they might have to make a report to police if they are a mandatory reporter.

If you are thinking about reporting to police, but you aren’t sure if you are ready, it can be a good idea to write down everything you remember about what happened, so that you have those details if you do decide to report. Remember to keep these details in a safe place.

If you decide not to make a formal report to police about sexual abuse, you can still fill in an on-line form (called a Sexual Assault Reporting Option or SARO). This doesn’t mean the police will investigate what happened, and it is not the same as making a formal report to police. It helps police gather information about sexual offences, and you can fill it out anonymously.

Compensation and assistance for victims

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, there may be a number of different ways you can get compensation or assistance, depending on what happened to you. These include:

There are some time limits that can apply to compensation. For example, applications for victims support for child sexual abuse or sexual assault must be made within 10 years after the act occurred, or 10 years after the victim turns 18.

If you think you might want to apply for compensation of support for sexual abuse, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to find out what your options are.

You can contact us for free and confidential advice here.

Other support services

If you have been sexually abused, it can be really helpful to talk to a trained counsellor about what has happened. There are lots of free services that can give counselling and support to victims of sexual abuse, including:

  • NSW Rape Crisis Centre: 24-hour service that provides phone counselling, information and referrals. Phone:1800 424 017.
  • NSW Health Sexual Assault Services: There is a complete list of sexual Assault Support Services available. You can search for the one closest to you here.
  • Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Counsellors: offer counselling and support. Phone: (02) 9750 0500.
  • LGBTIQ+ Violence Service: available 24/7 for anyone from the LGBTIQ+ community whose life has been impacted by sexual, domestic and/or family violence. Phone 1800 497 212.

Find out more

You can also find out more about sexual abuse by looking at these websites:

If you are under 24 and you have any questions about sexual abuse, or if you want some advice on your options, you can contact us for free and confidential help.

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