Women still unsafe at home, in public

October 21, 2006

On October 27, women and their supporters will rally in many cities, towns and rural areas around the world to protest against sexual violence against women and children. Over the past 28 years, Reclaim the Night rallies and marches have encouraged women to protest against violence and sexual assault.

On August 10, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the first national Personal Safety Survey (PSS), in a political context in which PM John Howard's government and men's rights groups have attacked feminists' continuing concerns about the ongoing high levels of violence against women. However, the PSS concluded that "people were three times more likely to experience violence by a man than a woman".

The 2005 PSS defined sexual violence as including both threats and acts of sexual assault. In the 12 months prior to the survey it was found that 1.6% of Australian women and 0.6% of men had experienced sexual violence (includes being threatened or assaulted).

Of the women who experienced sexual violence, 81% experienced an incident of sexual assault and 28% experienced a threat of sexual assault.

Twenty-two per cent of the women who had experienced sexual assault had been attacked by a stranger in the most recent incident, 21% by a previous partner, 39% by a family member or friend and 32% by an other known person.

Just under one-third (31%) of those who experienced sexual assault were between 25-34 years old. The most likely perpetrators of sexual assault were family members or friends (39% for women and 44% for men).

The survey also found that:

•An estimated 56% women and 27% of men reported being physically harassed at some stage in their lives.

•Approximately one in five women (19%) and one in 10 men (9%) had been stalked at some stage in their lives.

Comparisons with the 1996 Women's Safety Survey which surveyed 6300 women between February and April 1996 and the 2005 PSS (which surveyed 11,800 females and 4500 males in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories) show a decline in the incidents for physical violence, but less of a decline in the incidents for sexual violence.

However, the 2005 PSS still showed that staggering numbers of women have been the victims of either threats or acts of sexual violence.

By far the biggest concerns of the women surveyed were feeling unsafe at home alone after dark — 13.4%, down from 21.4% in 1996. But the numbers of women feeling unsafe using public transport alone after dark has increased from 5.6% in 1996 to 7.1% in 2005.

In the 12 months prior to the survey, 0.6% of men reported experiencing sexual assault. Forty-four per cent of these had experienced sexual assault by a family member or friend in the most recent incident, 35% by another known person, and 33% by a stranger.

From the age of 15, 5.5% of men reported experiencing sexual violence compared to 19% of women.

Child physical abuse includes any deliberate physical injury (including bruises) inflicted on a child, before the age of 15, by an adult. Child sexual abuse is any act, by an adult, involving a child under the age of 15 years in sexual activity.

The 2005 PPS found that the proportion of women and men who experienced physical abuse before the age of 15 was 10% and 9.4% respectively, and that women were more likely to have been sexually abused than men. Before the age of 15, 12% of women had been sexually abused compared to 4.5% of men,

One of the key demands for the 2006 Sydney Reclaim the Night march is for an immediate funding increase of $250,000 for each NSW Rape Crisis Centre and Dymphna House, the only state-wide community based adult and child sexual assault counselling services.

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