Sexual assault victimisation rates of men and women have risen drastically in the last decade.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data showed that from 2010 to 2019, reported cases of sexual assault rose from 26.1 to 34.8 male victims per 100,000 and 143.8 to 174.8 female victims per 100,000.
Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit (SVRPU) co-leader Dr Lara Christensen said there were a few reasons as to why victimisation rates have increased.
“A simple answer could be that more people are simply being victimised,” she said.
“However, I think a more likely reason for this is just more reports are being made.
“I think we now have greater mechanisms in place to encourage people to report, and we have more mechanisms than what we had five to 10 years ago.”
Some reports are considered historical, meaning that if the incident occurred years ago and is recently reported, it is included in current data and statistics.
The dark figure of crime is also a massive barrier that prevents accuracy when it comes to victimisation rates.
Dr Christensen said from 2010 to 2018 victimisation rates increased by 30 per cent and this type of offence was heavily impacted by the dark figure of crime.
“The issue here is that lots of people just rely on police data and so of course this data shows crimes that are reported or detected,” she said.
“It’s really important that we as criminologists and also in terms of the general population, consider victimisation surveys.
“They give us a far more accurate picture of what is going on.”
The 2016 Personal Safety Survey highlighted just how big the dark figure of crime is.
There were over 600,000 women who reported in the survey they had been a victim of sexual assault within the past 10 years.
Only 13 per cent of these women reported the incident to police.
Data from the National Community Attitude towards Violence against Women Survey found that one in 10 people believe women were lying about being sexually assaulted if they did not report it straight away.
One in eight believe that a man is justified in having consensual sex if the woman initiated intimacy in a scenario where the couple had just met.
Claire Smith, a victim of sexual assault and whose identity has been changed for safety and privacy concerns, said the incident occurred after she met a man over a dating app and agreed to meet up in person.
“To be honest, it actually took me a little while to realise it was rape,” she said.
Despite the assault, Ms Smith said she felt hesitant to report it, due to the context that there was an intention to hook up after they initially met.
“I thought about doing it months after, and then just didn’t,” she said.
“I felt heaps of shame and guilt, because even knowing that I made it clear and communicated with my body that I didn’t want it, I still felt that because of the context, in a way, it was something I should have realised could’ve happened.
“Maybe it’s something I could have prevented, but I don’t feel that way anymore because I recognise that the context doesn’t matter, and it is his fault.”
Data from the ABS also showed the highest reported rates for victims were between the ages of 0-9 for males and 10-17 for females.
Men typically do not come forward after being assaulted due to the harmful stereotypes and stigmas surrounding rape and masculinity.
This is attributed to the dark figure of crime and the gruelling process of taking a rape case to court.
Dr Christensen said victim shaming, harrowing examination in court from a defence barrister and the notion of it being the victim’s word against their assailants, were harmful barriers that could prevent a victim of sexual assault from reporting.
“A lot of people watch true crime shows and we see cross examination and how brutal it can be,” she said.
“Just the embarrassment and shame around that when somebody’s made to look like a bad person, when in fact, they’re not.”
Dr Christensen is a part of the SVRPU team, who focus on identifying what causes sexual abuse and how best to prevent it from happening.
“To us, it’s all about preventing, understanding and responding to sexual violence,” she said.
“We need to understand the problem first before we can prevent it and respond to it.”
For help in cases of violence or abuse, go to https://www.1800respect.org.au/