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Sexual violence

Sexual violence is sexual behaviour that occurs without consent. It can be physical or non-physical, and it can include things that happen online or that use digital technology.

The abuser can be someone you know in person or online, or a stranger.
 
Sexual violence is often gender based, meaning women, LGBTIQ+ and gender diverse people are abused more than men.

If you’re abused, it’s not your fault and you have the right to be believed. You’re not alone and help is available. This information will help you deal with domestic, family and sexual violence that happens online or uses digital technology.

Stay safe

If you are in Australia and feeling unsafe right now, call the police on Triple Zero (000) or contact 1800RESPECT or another specialist counselling or support service.  

It may be best to call from a friend’s phone, if you think yours is being tracked or monitored. 

If an abusive person learns that you are seeking help and information, their behaviour may get worse, so it’s a good idea to ask a support worker to help you.

What is tech-based sexual violence?

‘Sexual violence’ is a term used to cover a broad range of sexual behaviours, not only ones that include physical violence. It is any sexual behaviour that occurs without the informed and freely given agreement of everyone involved. It includes sexual harassment and sexual assault. Find out more about consent.
 
If digital technology is used, it’s sometimes called ‘tech-based sexual violence’. For example, someone may use a messaging service to send unwanted nudes (such as dick pics), they may share or threaten to share an intimate image or video on social media without the consent of the person shown, or they may force or trick a person into getting sexual over a video chat.

The abuser can be anyone you connect with online or using a digital device – they might be a stranger, a date or hook-up, a friend, a colleague, a classmate, an acquaintance, someone you know through another person, or someone you’ve only met online.
 
Tech-based sexual violence can also happen as part of family and domestic violence – if the abuser is a current or former partner, someone you are in a relationship with or a family member. In this case it’s sometimes an element of ‘coercive control’, which is an ongoing pattern of behaviour used to dominate another person through manipulation, pressure or fear. Find out more about family and domestic violence and coercive control

Tech-based sexual violence is one of the risks of online dating, but it can happen on any platform, service or app. Read more about safer online dating, sending nudes and sexting and unwanted or unsafe contact.

Has it happened to me?

Tech-based sexual violence includes a wide range of experiences. These are some examples.

  • Online sexual harassment – unwanted or unwelcome online sexual behaviour that is offensive, humiliating or intimidating. This can include: 
    • sending unwanted sexually explicit images, videos or messages
    • pressuring you to send nudes
    • continually contacting you after you have told them you are not interested. Read more about unwanted or unsafe contact.
  • Image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’ – sharing or threatening to share an intimate image or video of you online without your consent. Find out more about image-based abuse.
  • Sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’ – tricking you into sending nudes or sexual images or videos to them, or recording you getting sexual online, then threatening to share the content unless you pay them or send them more sexual content. This is a type of blackmail. Find out more about how to deal with sexual extortion.
  • Online dating abuse – a range of sexually abusive behaviours that occur while online dating, including sending unwanted sexually explicit images, video or messages, pressuring you to send nudes, making threats or continually contacting you after you have told them you are not interested. 
  • Tech-based sexual assault including:
    • using a digital device or online platform to organise a meeting so they can sexually harm you
    • sexually harming, degrading or humiliating you in a virtual or augmented reality environment. 
  • Sexual grooming or abuse – when a sexual predator encourages someone who is under 18 into sexual or sexualised contact, such as sending nudes or getting sexual online. Read more about sexual grooming and abuse or read our advice for parents on grooming or unwanted contact. Report sexual grooming and abuse of anyone under 18 to the police or the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).

How common is it?

Sexual violence is unacceptably common.

Research in 2021-22 showed that in Australia, 2 in 5 people (41%) surveyed had experienced violence after the age of 15 and of those, 1 in 5 women (22%) had experienced sexual violence compared to 1 in 16 (6%) men. The same survey examined sexual harassment and showed that out of the 1.3 million women who reported sexual harassment in the previous 12 months, 57% had experienced tech-based sexual harassment.
 
The gendered nature of sexual violence means that some groups within the community are at greater risk of harm. A national survey into tech-based abuse done in 2022 found that almost one third of women (28.9%) surveyed had experienced sexual and image-based abuse, compared with 19.3% of men.

Women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, First Nations women, women with disability and LGBTIQ+ people are also known to experience higher rates of online sexual violence.

A study in 2022 found nearly three-quarters (72.3%) of Australians using dating apps who were surveyed had experienced online sexual harassment, aggression or violence by someone they had connected with through an online dating platform in the last five years.

What are the impacts?

Tech-based sexual violence can happen to anyone. It can affect people of all ages, cultures, religions, sexual orientations or education levels.

It can be traumatic and extremely stressful. People who have experienced sexual violence report a variety of emotions including feeling scared, confused, uncertain, powerless, violated, angry, depressed, anxious, distrustful and/or worthless. 

Some people feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about experiencing sexual violence, but it’s important to remember that you are not at fault and have done nothing wrong. It’s never OK for someone to do something sexual to you without your consent or to sexually pressure you in any way, in any situation.

How to get help

It’s important to remember that you are not alone and help is available. 

  • If you are ever concerned about your immediate safety call the police straight away on Triple Zero (000).
  • Sexual violence services provide specialised support and advice, so you can choose one that’s right for you. If you think your devices are being tracked or monitored, it may be best to contact the service using a computer or phone belonging to someone else, such as a friend or neighbour.

Get support

  • Stay safely connected with your trusted friends, family and support systems as much as possible. Make sure your friends and family have your contact information and check in on you regularly. Use a safe phone or device that your partner or ex-partner does not have access to. This might be a friend’s phone or a device at their house, or a computer at your work or a public library. 
  • Follow eSafety’s steps for reporting online abuse if it’s safe to do so – it’s usually best to make a safety plan first. We have legal powers to help you deal the most serious online abuse, including removing harmful content such as:
    • adult cyber abuse – menacing, harassing or offensive online communication that is intended to cause serious harm to someone who is 18 or older (for example, a partner or ex-partner might send you messages or post online comments threatening to rape, harm or kill you) 
    • image-based abuse (sometimes called ‘revenge porn’) – when someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of you without your consent (for example, a partner or ex-partner may threaten to share a nude of you online unless you do what they tell you).
  • Stop intimate images and videos from being uploaded to online platforms without your consent. If you’re under 18, you can use takeitdown.ncmec.org and if you’re 18 or older, you can use StopNCII.org. These are free online tools that prevent your image or video being shared on certain platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and OnlyFans.

Share your experience

If it feels right for you and your recovery, you make like to consider sharing your story with the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commission. The Commission aims to promote the voices of people with lived and living experience of domestic, family and sexual violence and ensure their stories help to shape policy and service delivery.