Blog: Sexual Violence Awareness Month – Stronger, Wiser, Survivor

Sexual Violence Awareness Month (SVAM) runs through October each year. This year the theme is Stronger, Wiser, Survivor: Uplifting the voices of victim-survivors every day, every month and every year. There are activities throughout the month promoting awareness and support, as well as resources available year-round.

Sexual violence (SV) a major social issue and one that is increasingly discussed within our media and communities. With increased awareness, many who have not previously felt safe to disclose abuse are speaking up and seeking support. If someone you know has experienced SV, if you have yourself, or if you work with victim-survivors, knowing a few key facts and where you can go for information and support can be invaluable.

What is sexual violence?

SV refers to a range of sexual acts or behaviours directed at a person that are unwanted or harmful, including sexual assault, sharing of private images without consent (image-based abuse), sexual harassment, and exposing a person to sexual material. SV is perpetrated against people of all ages, genders and cultures, but is more commonly perpetrated against young people, women, and people of minoritised genders, sexualities, and cultural groups.

While the idea of ‘stranger rape’ is common in tv shows and movies, the vast majority of SV is perpetrated by people known to the victim-survivor. Most commonly, perpetrators of SV are family members, partners, or other people with significant connections to the victim-survivor. SV can be an individual instance or perpetrated over time, with many people – especially women and children – subjected to SV by a person or multiple people over months or years. This is particularly common where the abuse happens within a family or intimate relationship.

Children cannot consent to sexual activity, so any sexual contact with children, use of children in sexual images or videos, and exposure of children to sexual material is child sexual abuse (CSA). Much CSA is committed by people who have responsibility for victims’ wellbeing, particularly parental figures (usually fathers or step-fathers), other family members, or people otherwise closely linked to the child or family. In Queensland, every adult has a responsibility to notify relevant authorities if they have a reasonable belief that another adult is sexually abusing or has sexually abused a child, unless specific circumstances apply (e.g., the abuse already being known to police).

Where SV is perpetrated by a partner, this is called intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV). IPSV is often perpetrated within campaigns of coercive control and is a recognised red flag for severe or lethal violence. IPSV is common within abusive relationships, devastating to those subjected to it, and a recognised risk of severe violence and murder within domestic and family violence (DFV). Yet it is particularly difficult for people experiencing IPSV to receive the service or legal responses they are entitled to, with research interest in this area limited until recently. There are signs this is starting to change, however. It is also promising to see that IPSV is integrated into the common DFV frameworks rolled out by state governments around the country.

Where can I find more information?

Your local SV service and 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) are great starting points. You can also find accessible information online (we suggest starting with an authoritative source to reduce the risk of accessing misleading information). QCOSS has webinars and videos on SV (like this recent presentation from Working Women Queensland) and upcoming events, such as this webinar on child safe organisations. (You can find our upcoming events here and our previous recordings here.)

I’ve experienced SV or am supporting someone who has – where can I get help?

You can find funded SV services across Queensland by visiting the Queensland Sexual Assault Network’s (QSAN) website or through 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). There are also services developed to work with particular groups, including organisations that support young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with intellectual difficulties and disabilities, young people, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds who have experienced SV. These services understand that SV is a major risk factor for physical, psychosocial, family, educational, vocational, financial and legal challenges, so they can also help you identify other services that may be useful.

How can I promote SVAM?

Local SV services across the country are running events to promote awareness and raise funds, so you can attend online and in-person events through your local service. You can also share social media posts or put up posters or ribbons around your workplace or community sites. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Attend an event at your local service (remember, you can find your local service at the QSAN website), community site, or university.
  • Follow or post using SVAM-related hashtags on social media (e.g., #SVAM2023 #SVAM #StrongerWiserSurvivor #SexualViolence #Support #StopSexualViolence #SexualViolencePrevention #NoMore #SupportSurvivors).
  • Download the Queensland Government’s SVAM Stakeholder Communication Kit.
  • If sharing information about SV, follow the Queensland Government’s Sexual Violence Media Guide.