man touching a women inappropriately in an office

Understanding sexual abuse

Domestic and family violence can take many forms, including emotional, financial, physical, spiritual and verbal. One form of domestic violence is sexual abuse, which can be defined as unwanted sexual activity. This activity is not just physical – it can also include verbal and emotional elements. Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by domestic partners (or ex – partners), casual partners, friends, colleagues, or strangers, and can happen to women, men and children. One in six Australian women, and one in sixteen men have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by a partner (or ex-partner). It is important to address sexual abuse, as it has been found to cause ongoing, and often serious, physical and mental trauma.

Below are some signs and effects of sexual abuse, as well some steps to take to get help if you think you may be using sexual abuse in your relationship.


Signs of Sexual abuse

  • Rape
  • Forcing someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity without consent. This includes unwanted kissing, rubbing, or groping
  • Forcing someone to watch pornographic content
  • Taking and distributing sexual photos without permission
  • Coercing someone into sexual behavior, such as threatening to restrict access to funds if they don’t sleep with you
  • Forcing someone to practice unsafe sex
  • Using sex related insults – i.e. calling someone “slut”
  • Stopping someone from making their own decision about whether to have a baby
  • Trying to make someone drink more or take drugs so you’ll agree to sex.


Effects of sexual abuse

Victims of sexual abuse on victims can experience:

  • Physical trauma, such as bruising, broken bones, or contraction of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Emotional trauma and fear
  • Self-blame or guilt
  • Ongoing sexual dysfunction
  • Drug and alcohol dependency.


How to get help

If you think that your behaviour may constitute signs of sexual abuse (or any form of domestic violence) there are some steps you can take to get help to change your behavior.

  • Safety: Call 000 immediately if anyone’s safety is at risk
  • Learn more about it: Health Direct, 1800 Respect, Reach Out and many other websites provide information and support pathways that can help you better understand what sexual abuse is and the damage it can do
  • Talk about it: Discussing your concerns with a trusted friend, GP or a qualified counsellor can be the start of changing this behaviour
  • Behaviour change: Change is possible but ongoing expert support is your best option for success. Men’s behaviour change programs offer tools for developing better relationships, and learning non-abusive behaviour so that you can behave differently in the same situations that used to lead to violence. The programs model an attitude of respect rather than punishment or shame for what you have done. Visit our find a men’s behaviour change program page, or enquire about enrolling in the Changing for Good program.


Further reading


If you’re experiencing family or domestic violence you can call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78, access online counselling or visit 1800RESPECT.