Speaking on Women's Safety and The Under-reporting of Sexual Assault

Today Abigail stood in Parliament to address the notorious under-reporting of sexual assault and some of the factors behind this. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (15:21) said: 

Some particularly silly comments have been made in this Chamber recently about the prevalence of sexual assault in New South Wales. Sexual assault is notoriously under‑reported. In August 2020 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that in almost nine out of 10 incidents, women who experienced their most recent aggravated sexual assault by a man in the past 10 years did not contact the police—nine out of 10. That is not new information—the Australian Bureau of Statistics has acknowledged it for decades. There can be a number of reasons for not reporting a sexual assault to the police. People might struggle to understand the complexity behind this if they have never been sexually assaulted. Many women feel ashamed or embarrassed. Social stigma and victim blaming play roles in making women feel that they were in some way responsible. That totally undeserved shame often takes decades to unpick and is incredibly common in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Women may not report the incident because they fear that no-one will believe them; or that the police and court procedures will be too gruelling; or because they are worried about putting themselves in more danger in confronting the perpetrator in court. Despite the chronic under-reporting of sexual assault, on any reading of the statistics we know for sure that women are right to be concerned about their personal safety in New South Wales and the trends in the data do nothing to alleviate those concerns. According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, sexual assault reports have gone up by 10.1 per cent in the past 24 months and up by 7.4 per cent over the past five years. Indecent assault rates have also increased by 3.3 per cent in the past five years. Reports of intimidation, stalking and harassment have increased by 9.1 per cent over the past 24 months. Overall, at least one in six women will experience at least one sexual assault after the age of 15.

So what possible purpose would one have for arguing that the statistics overstate the numbers of sexual assault in New South Wales other than to devalue the lived reality of women in New South Wales and their calls to make this State a safer place? It may come as a surprise to some members in this place, but women in New South Wales are not comforted by whether or not the violation they experienced is pedantically labelled as one particular criminal offence or another, or how it ends up appearing in official statistics. What they care about is being safe. They are not.

Put another way—and contrary to what some here would say—women are scared to walk the streets. It is not because of statistics coming out of the mouth of the police commissioner; it is because of their lived reality. For example, Mission Australia's2019 Youth Survey report found that almost half of young women surveyed felt unsafe walking alone after dark, and one in five young women reported concerns about personal safety. The fact is that women are not safe—not on the streets, not at work and not in their homes. We cannot fix what is not acknowledged. If we are to improve the safety of women and allow all women full access and participation in all aspects of life, we must recognise the very real gender disparities in personal safety.


Visit Hansard here to view the full speech.

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