The United Nations In-depth Study on all Forms of Violence Against Women: Report of the Secretary-General (2006) surveyed 71 countries and found that on average at least one woman in three is subjected to intimate partner violence in the course of her lifetime. Between 10% and 30% of women in other studies indicated that they had experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner (Heise, Ellsberg, & Gottemoeller, 1999). In many cases physical violence is accompanied by sexual violence. In the Australian context two large-scale prevalence studies provide insight into the local experience. The 1995 Women's Safety Survey found women in the 18-24 year age-bracket were more likely to be assaulted than women in other age groups: 19% of women aged 18-24 had experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months, compared with 6.8% of women aged 35-44 and 1.2% of women aged 55 and over. Only 15% of women who identified an incident of sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey reported it to police (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 1996). A later study in 2005 estimated there were 44,100 persons aged 18 years and over who were victims of at least one sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey; approximately 72,000 incidents of sexual assault were experienced by these victims (ABS, 2005).
There is no argument about the pervasiveness and impact of sexual violence. The challenge we face is how to prevent it. Over the last 30 years, Australian governments have developed comprehensive multi-level strategies to try and address the needs of victims, to hold perpetrators responsible and to educate the community about how to prevent sexual and other forms of intimate violence. Over this time, it has become clear that the prevention of sexual assault is a complex task that challenges policy makers, victim and perpetrator services, educators, researchers and the communities in which we live.