Breaking the Taboo – talking about sexual violence

October was Sexual Violence Awareness Month on the Gold Coast. Sadly, sexual violence is still very much a taboo in our society, which means victims often keep quiet and feel guilty and ashamed, while the perpetrators walk away freely. The only way to break this taboo is to talk about it.

Sexual violence is a term that refers to any sort of unwanted sexual behaviour that violates a person’s boundaries and makes them feel frightened, threatened or uncomfortable. However, emails or text messages of a sexual nature, or even the inappropriate use of sexual language, can be very intimidating for the victim and so this can also constitute sexual violence.

Generally the term encompasses:

  • Sexual contact with a child (incest)
  • Sexual harassment
  • Inappropriate sexual language or forcing a person to view pornography. Sending unwanted electronic communications with sexual content.
  • Rape and attempted rape
  • Sex with someone who is asleep, unconscious, on drugs or drunk

All sexual violence is a crime. However, victims often find it difficult to speak out due to the stigma that surrounds it. Because of the many myths that surround rape and sexual assault, sometimes the victim doesn’t even realise that they have been attacked. In fact, rapes are more likely to happen within relationships, families and in the victim’s home, than by a stranger on the street.

At the beginning of the month, Paul Ziebarth, Gold Coast District Officer Superintendent, spoke at the launch of Sexual Awareness Month to reiterate the fact that the Queensland Police Service, and indeed the Police Service as a whole, takes all complaints of sexual violence very seriously. This is important, because many victims worry about whether they will be believed, or if their behaviour perhaps invited the sexual violence in some way.

It’s important for victims to know that the Police Service and counselling services are behind them and that they are in no way responsible for the attack. It’s also vital that everyone understands that nobody invites unwanted sexual attention through their dress or behaviour, and that it is never OK to make any unwanted sexual advances.

The Gold Cost Centre against sexual violence has been running events over the course of Sexual Violence Awareness Month and offers free confidential support to all women who have been affected by sexual violence. However, sexual violence isn’t an exclusively female issue and men are often victims too. Help for anyone can be accessed through the Australian Government Crisis Support page on their website.

Remember, the best way to combat sexual violence is to speak out about it. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, please seek support from someone you trust.