About sexual abuse and assault

Sexual violence (including sexual abuse and assault) is any unwanted sexual behaviour towards another person. All sexual violence is unacceptable and many kinds of sexual violence are a crime in Queensland.

Find out where to get help if you have recently experienced sexual violence.

Types of sexual violence

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual act that is forced on a person by intimidation, physical force or coercion or, more broadly, without their consent.

Sexual assault includes rape and attempted rape, as well as unwanted sexual touching or groping, or being forced to perform a sexual act on another person.

Consent to any form of sexual activity has to be freely and voluntarily given. In Queensland you can’t give consent if you’re:

  • being forced, threatened or intimidated
  • being misled (e.g. by someone pretending to be a doctor or your partner)
  • unconscious or asleep
  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • under 16 years of age.

Sexual assault can be perpetrated by a stranger, but is most commonly committed by a person known to the victim. This may include a partner or date, family member (including step-family or foster family–this is known as incest), friend, colleague or other acquaintance.

A victim of sexual assault is never responsible for being assaulted.


Rape is when someone has sex, or tries to have sex, with someone else without their consent. It doesn’t matter what gender or sexual orientation you are–if you haven’t consented to sex (including oral sex) then it’s rape.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome or unwanted sexual attention and includes:

  • unwanted touching, kissing, grabbing or other physical contact
  • making suggestive or explicit jokes, comments or remarks
  • staring or leering
  • requesting sex or other sexual favours
  • displaying sexually explicit or offensive material
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • asking intrusive questions or making explicit comments about someone’s private life or body.

In Queensland, sexual harassment applies in all situations. In other states or territories it may only apply in the workplace.

Image-based abuse

When someone takes or shares a nude or sexual image of people without their consent or permission, it’s called image-based abuse.

This includes threatening to share images with other people–such as friends, family or workmates–or on social media.

Both of these are illegal in Queensland.

Image-based abuse includes:

  • taking a nude or sexual image of someone without their permission
  • sharing or posting a nude or sexual image of someone online without their permission
  • photoshopping someone’s photo on to a sexually explicit image
  • secretly filming someone having consensual sex or being sexually assaulted
  • taking photos down a woman’s shirt or up her skirt without her permission
  • threatening to share nude or sexual images of someone (even if those images don’t actually exist).

You can find out more on the eSafety Commissioner website which provides information for anyone in Australia who has experienced image-based abuse by providing reporting options, support and resources for victims, their family and friends, and bystanders.

Can sexual violence be avoided?

Rules like ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and ‘don’t walk alone after dark’ may help to avoid general crime but they don’t help prevent sexual violence. They do nothing but support the myth that a victim of sexual violence could have done something to avoid it.

In fact, the victim usually knows the person committing the sexual violence and most incidents take place at home.

Victims of sexual violence are often asked why they didn’t yell, fight back or run away. People can react very differently to incidents of sexual violence; while some people might try to fight off an attacker or run away, others may experience a ‘freeze’ response in an attempt to minimise harm. Just because someone doesn’t fight back–yell, scream or run away–doesn’t mean they are consenting.

Find more information about sexual violence myths on the Our Watch website.

More information