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Women and Sexual Assault

Overview of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any sexualised behaviour that induces an individual to feel intimidated, threatened, uncomfortable or terrified. Sexual assault can refer to criminal offences like indecent assault or rape, but it can also include any sexual or sexualised behaviour. It refers to sexual activity in which one person coerces another person to engage in sexual behaviour against their will by using either emotional or physical force or by threatening to use either of these forms of pressure. According to the Royal Women’s Hospital (2021), a woman’s psychological, emotional, physical, gynaecological, spiritual, and reproductive health negatively affects another person when sexually harassed. These interactions can also damage a woman’s reproductive health (AIHW, 2020).

Assaults of a sexual nature are a significant public health and welfare concern all over the world, including in Australia. The aftermath can have far-reaching and permanent repercussions for many of the victims. They run the risk of suffering from physical injuries, consequences on their mental health that last for a more extended period, and disruptions to daily activities such as their eating and sleeping routines. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020), 2 million women and 700,000 males aged 18 experience sexual violence in their lifetime. This includes sexual abuse in childhood or sexual assault after age 15. Between 2012 and 2016, there was a rise in the rate of sexual assault among women but not among men (AIHW, 2020). This moral decadency has raised global attention as organisations such as feminist movements seek ways to deal with this evil vice. Feminist views on sexual assault explain the perpetrator’s motivation and explore how perpetrators regard women as appropriate targets in their attacks (WHO, 2021).

Social Imagination

Past events significantly influence people’s lives, allowing them to understand who they are and what direction they are going. Therefore, it is only average for individuals to use their prior experiences as a reference point for the circumstance they are in now. The decisions people make for themselves now are frequently impacted by the decisions they made in the past. If people make decisions based on sound judgment, they will look to their past to identify what they do not want in their lives and utilize regrets, mistakes, and painful experiences as guides (Tanasugarn, 2020).

A society’s culture is defined as the set of shared principles, practices, and principles that the majority of its members uphold. The culture people come from affects who they are as individuals and even how they perceive the meaning of life. The type of culture, collective or individualistic, influences people’s beliefs. This type of culture can shape a person’s identity. For instance, a person who develops their identity inside the confines of a tightly knit or communal culture, where standards are strictly upheld, is likely to refrain from encouraging individualistic thought or action (Gantt, 2020).

Families are essential in gaining a complete grasp of social organization because they are a community’s most fundamental social grouping. Families frequently supply the vitality required for community processes (Mancini et al., 2005). In the same manner, different features of a community have an effect on the dynamics within a family. The social environment’s characteristics are proximate factors determining how youngsters mature. These characteristics are social processes that reflect the contact and transaction between people in a society, including families. It is believed that these processes shape behaviour in both positive and undesired ways (Mancini et al., 2005).

Several different approaches can be taken to improve the social setting. These include providing chances for family members, including those in the extended family, immediate family, and community members, to volunteer in society’s activities. This, in turn, creates an opportunity for families to interact and build relationships with one another (Mancini et al., 2005). Society should extend invitations to families, asking them to bring resources and activities from their native culture to share with others. The collaborative effort helps the children interact positively with others and their families. Therefore, it is crucial to involve families in coming up with ideas and preparing activities to cater to the specific requirements of individual children (Mancini et al., 2005).

Causes of Sexual Assault

According to the Royal Women’s Hospital (2021), there are many widely held misunderstandings concerning sexual assault. When women communicate about their experiences of sexual assault, such misconceptions might make it more difficult for them to receive the proper support. From a broader perspective, many men argue that women provoke them into committing sexual assaults. This is generally through flirting, isolation in places such as clubs, use of drugs or alcohol, and dressing in particular manners (WCSAP, 2022). It may be difficult for women to recognise that they have been the victim of sexual assault due to common misunderstandings. It is possible that women will feel humiliated or embarrassed due to them, which will make them hesitant to discuss their encounter or seek help (WCSAP, 2022).

A childhood background of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse and coming from an emotionally unsupportive family setting are also variables that contribute to sexual assault. A family environment defined by physical conflict and violence also contributes to sexual assault. There is a possible link between poverty and sexual harassment, as is the absence of employment possibilities (WCSAP, 2022). Another element contributing to the problem is the absence of institutional support from the police and the justice system. According to the Royal Women’s Hospital (2021), another factor contributing to sexual assault is the community’s general acceptance of sexual assault and its lax enforcement of community punishments against those who commit sexual assault.

Theoretical Perspective of Sexual Assault

Two significant theories describe the health issues patterns; the functionalism approach and symbolic interactionism. Functionalism states that high-quality medical care is required for the smooth flow of activities in a healthy population. Patients are supposed to act ill for their sickness to be seriously considered. They are thus excused from their daily responsibilities. The connection between patients and a physician is hierarchical, with physicians giving instructions that the patients must follow (UoM, 2016). The assumption that the sick responsibility applies more readily to short-term sickness than to long-term illness is one of the primary criticisms against the functionalist approach. People with chronic illnesses may permanently be stuck in a sick role. However, most of the conversation implies that people only temporarily enter sick positions and quickly exit them after following adequate medical care (UoM, 2016).

The other theoretical perspective on health care is symbolic interactionism. This theory states that mental and physical conditions have no objective and that only society can regard individuals as either healthy or ill. Illness and health, in this theory, are, therefore, social creations. Doctors have the solid role of managing illness to demonstrate authority and competence in the medical field (UoM, 2016). The symbolic interactionist method needs to be revised since it gives the impression that no illnesses have an objective reality. Regardless of what individuals or society may believe, many primary health conditions exist and put individuals in danger for their health. Some people believe that this method ignores the consequences of social inequality on health and illness, which is another criticism leveled against it (UoM, 2016).

Impact of Sexual Assault on Health

The health issues that arise because of sexual assault are very profound. Most women suffer at the hands of wicked men who deserve imprisonment for their terrible acts. When women initially disclose that they have been the victims of sexual assault, their well-being and health exacerbate if no one believes them or they face chastising for what happened. The time that passes between the sexual harassment and the victim receiving the necessary care and support may have a more severe effect (Boyd, 2011). The pain and intense sense of violation resulting from sexual assault can affect every facet of a woman’s being. It can damage her physical and mental health, self-esteem, connection with her physique, and sensation of security in all environments, including intimate relationships and where she receives medical treatment (WCSAP, 2022).

The model for trauma response and the clinical assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have helped acknowledge the magnitude of the harm caused to those sexually abused and the extent of the suffered violation (WCSAP, 2022). The most common feelings that arise in the aftermath of rape are panic and extreme terror. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020), this phenomenon reaches its height approximately three weeks following rape. Anxieties that persist are tied to recollections of the assault, whereas fears that follow sexual assault can include concerns about future assaults and other forms of harm. This presumption busts altogether, supposing the victim had previously believed that the world was, for the most part, a secure place to live.

Women who have been sexually assaulted may or may not develop physical injuries or other medical issues due to the assault. Nevertheless, sexual harassment victims are at risk for a variety of physical injuries in addition to adverse effects on their health. It is possible to suffer injuries as a direct consequence of the abuse itself, as a consequence of later problems, or as a consequence of the psychological impact of the assault (Boyd, 2011). Injuries to the anus, vagina, and urethra may result from the effects of a physical wreck. There are a variety of reproductive and sexual health issues that can affect women. There is an increase in the risk of getting sexually transmissible infections, such as HIV/AIDS and early pregnancies, among other sexually transmitted diseases and conditions (WCSAP, 2022).

Social Intervention to Prevent Sexual Assault

Role of the Health Sector

The health sector has a vital role, even though preventing and reacting to violence against women demands an approach that involves multiple sectors working together. The health industry lobbies to have violence against women recognised as an issue that must be handled as a matter of public health and to make it socially unacceptable. It is the responsibility of the health community to provide assistance and educate healthcare practitioners to respond to the requirements of survivors (WHO, 2021).

Early recognition of children and women suffering violence and inappropriate referral and assistance can help the health sector reduce the recurrence of violent acts by reducing the number of victims of violence (WHO, 2021). The health industry’s responsibility is to encourage egalitarian gender norms as a component of the comprehensive sexuality education and life skills curricula for young people. By taking out population-based surveys or integrating gender-based violence in community and health surveys, along with monitoring and health information systems, the healthcare system can also generate evidence regarding what works and the scope of the problem (WHO, 2021).

Prevention and Intervention

College initiatives on counselling, assault deterrence in general, violent behaviour, sexual abuse, and marital abuse have constituted the majority of preventive intervention initiatives. These efforts have been largely successful. Education programs addressing sexual assault and rape appear to be becoming more widespread on college campuses, and conflict resolution education programs have been implemented in dozens of schools across the country (Schewe, 2008). The limited assessments of these programs mainly measure students’ knowledge about dating violence before and after the prevention strategy and their perspectives regarding dating violence. This is one of the few assessments that is done.

A universal preventative intervention, public education campaigns like those undertaken against drunk driving and smoking are examples of practical community prevention projects that have been a part of many other social and community prevention initiatives. Deterrence is yet another approach to crime prevention. People can be dissuaded from engaging in violent behaviour by the possibility of facing punishment from the criminal justice system, which means that these types of interventions can be considered preventive.

Some people, particularly those working in the criminal justice field, consider the preventative tactics that include avoiding or resisting rape as examples of prevention through the limitation of opportunity. These strategies may be found in studies on rape prevention. Women should employ various preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of being victims of sexual assault and rape. These methods include avoiding potentially harmful circumstances, not going out on their own, keeping windows and doors locked and closed, and taking any additional safety precautions necessary for women.


It is generally accepted that the act of men committing violence against women manifests the historically uneven power relations between men and women. However, a multi-dimensional viewpoint is required to decipher the connection between gender discrimination and the commission of violent acts against women by men. Sexual assault has been described as having a profound effect on the day-to-day lives of the affected women, ranging from physical, physiological, emotional, and spiritual impact, among others. Feminist movements work hand in hand with lawyers to ensure that gender equality is achieved since gender inequality is attributed as one of the stimulants of sexual harassment. The case study also offers prevention and intervention means that have proved effective in curbing sexual abuse among women and children in Australia and the world.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Sexual Assault in Australia.

Boyd, C. (2011). The impacts of sexual assault on women. Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Gantt, L. (2020). How does culture affect behavior? Santa Maria Times.

Mancini, J. A., Bowen, G. L., & Martin, J. A. (2005). Community Social Organization: A Conceptual Linchpin in Examining Families in the Context of Communities. College of Family and Consumer Sciences | UGA FACS.

McLoughlin, K., & O’Brien, A. (2019). Feminist interventions in law reform: Criminalising image-based sexual abuse in New South Wales. MDPI.

Tanasugarn, A. (2020). Healing from the past and living in your present. Psych Central.

The Royal Women’s Hospital. (2021). Sexual Assault.

Schewe, P. A. (2008). Interventions to prevent sexual violence. SpringerLink.

UoM. (2016). 13.1 sociological perspectives on health and health care – Social problems. M-Libraries.

WCSAP. (2022). Risk and protective factors. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

WHO. (2021). Violence against women. World Health Organization (WHO).


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