Addressing Sexual Assault and Consent


The Central Australian Health Service‘s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is collaborating with other stakeholders across Alice Springs during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) to bring attention to the ‘silent crime’ associated with sexual assault.

There are common impacts of domestic violence and sexual assault and members of the local stakeholder group want to make sure that the link between domestic and family violence and sexual assault is heeded.

The Manager for the Kunga Stopping Violence Progam, which is part of the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Miriam Bevis says sexual assault in intimate partner relationships has long remained the ‘silent crime’ in discussions about violence against women, certainly in the societal discourse.

“The dominant and more prevalent perception about sexual assault is the assault by strangers but sexual assault within intimate relationships is still being discounted and being silenced,” Ms Bevis said.

“Sexual assault within intimate relationships can take on many different forms, ranging from ‘marital expectations’ to a more dangerous situation of serious sexual assault with long-lasting health impacts,” says SARC’s Vicki Hayes.

“In the context of a domestic and family violence situation with ongoing violence, it is arguable whether the capacity to freely provide consent is profoundly compromised. Hence the ability for partners to resist must always be understood with great sensitivity to what types of actions are possible in the context of the violent relationship as a whole,” she said.

“Partners are more than likely forced into actions, which are about their survival and the survival of their children, but this is often misinterpreted and viewed as consent,” said Maree Corbo from the Tangentyere Council Family Violence Prevention Programs.

SARC’s Heike Billstein says fighting for your life can take many acceptable forms of responses.

“At a physiological level violated partners may experience immobility, which makes resistance impossible, and which in turn is symptomatic of the traumatic nature of the assault. Other responses can include trying to reason with the perpetrator, trying to bargain, trying to escape or trying to defend one-self,” she said.

“Research informs us that repeated sexual assault in intimate partner relationships within a domestic and family violence context is a risk factor for intimate partner homicide. Some partners who are in such situations are being forced into sexual actions, which for them is clearly about survival,” said Julia Parkin, Community Legal Education Lawyer from the Central Australian Women’s Legal Service.

The community discourse needs to be raised so that community members are informed about the reality faced by survivors and perpetrators is no longer protected by the silence.

If you are a survivor and this is creating stressful reactions for you, support is available through the nationwide 1800 Respect number 1800 737 732 or your local SARC service on 8955 4500.

Media Contact: Gail Turner – 8951 5111 or 0476 839 383

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