Sexual violence against women is on the rise, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). But then again we don’t need statistics to tell us that. The latest Personal Safety Survey shows the proportion of women experiencing sexual violence in the past year increased from 1.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent since the last survey conducted in 2012.
But very few sexual assaults are being reported to police. In 2012, an estimated 17 per cent of women reported their most recent sexual assault by a male to police. That number dropped to 15 per cent in 2016. “The ones who say they don’t report an incident to the police tend to say it’s either that they didn’t think it was that big of a deal, or that they felt they could deal with it themselves,” the survey’s program manager Michelle Marquardt said.
In 2015, 17 per cent of women said they had been sexually harassed in the past year. This is up from 15 per cent in 2012 and for men, it has risen from 6.6 per cent to 9.3 per cent. “In the survey we asked people whether they had experienced situations, or messages, or unwanted touching of a sexual nature,” Ms Marquardt said. “We have seen quite substantial increases in that between 2012 and 2016.”
Most of the women reported being sexually harassed by a man. The most common forms were inappropriate comments about the woman’s body or sex life, and unwanted grabbing, kissing, and fondling.
The incidence of sexual harassment was particularly high for young women aged 18 to 24, with 38 per cent saying they had been sexually harassed in the past year. This is the third Personal Safety Survey conducted by the ABS. ABS personnel interviewed 21,242 people in person, in all parts of the country.
Respondents were given the option of answering sensitive questions privately on a computer. “This survey is the gold standard for collecting information about people’s experiences with violence, emotional abuse, and sexual harassment,” Ms Marquardt said.
“This covers things that are not necessarily reported to police, but these are the full gamut of people’s experiences. I don’t believe there is another collection that’s as large as this one.”
Despite public awareness campaigns, the survey revealed that the rate of domestic violence has not improved. It is estimated 2.2 million women have experienced violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, more than three times the number of men (703,000).
In 2012, 1.5 per cent of women experienced partner violence in the previous year, and that proportion had risen slightly to 1.7 per cent in 2016. Men experiencing domestic violence in the previous 12 months was 0.8 per cent, a slight increase from 0.6 per cent in 2012.
But there is some good news. The number of men experiencing physical violence in the past year has almost halved since the ABS first did this survey in 2005. The proportion of men who experienced physical violence in the previous year was 10 per cent in 2005, compared to 5.4 per cent in 2016. That has led to a decrease in the national rate of physical violence, dropping from 8.3 per cent to 5.4 per cent.