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Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Office (SeMPRO)

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Weapons are rarely used and injuries are rarely sustained in a sexual assault1. Offenders are usually known to the victim and are usually a friend, colleague or close working companion2. The majority of unreported rapes will follow a similar scenario; i.e.: a person leaves a bar with a man, a colleague from their unit, and is seen by many people to leave with him. When they get home, s/he passes out, from either drugs or alcohol, and the man has sex with them while they are incapable of consenting.  In this scenario, there is often the assumption that trauma will not occur and that the rape was not real. This is not true. These crimes do not happen by accident. Men can control their sexual urges. The intent of the offender was to have sex with someone who was incapable of giving consent.

It is interesting that society focuses on the actions of the victims of sexual assaults. Discussions focus on how much they had to drink and whether it was wise of them to let someone drive them home.

Instead, consider the offender. Using power and authority, or alcohol instead of a knife as a weapon to subdue another person, does not change the intent of the person wielding the weapon, buying the drinks or bullying the person.

If you have sex or perform a sex act on someone who is incapable of consenting, for whatever reason, you are raping them or sexually assaulting them. Whether you are convicted or not, you are a sex offender.

Lievore (2003) noted offenders often use threats and psychological tactics rather than physical violence or weapons to force compliance. As a result, physical injury of the victim is relatively rare. Weapons were used in seven per cent of incidents, and physical injuries occurred in 23 per cent of cases reported to the Crime and Safety Survey.3  Most victims, therefore, have no physical evidence of assault, i.e. bruises or cuts and could, at best, even with prompt reporting and skilled forensic evidence gathering, merely show evidence that sexual activity has occurred.

The lack of physical evidence of assault should not be underestimated. It goes hand in hand with the prevailing expectation held by both men and women that, should a sexual assault take place, the victim would fight with all their physical strength against being assaulted and, as a result, would sustain physical injuries.

People who have not been assaulted assume this is how they would react, forgetting that statistically they are likely to know the person raping them.

Compounding this problem within the context of Defence, it is likely that the offender will be a trusted colleague, someone from their unit, wearing the same uniform as them and therefore someone they perceive as belonging to their 'family'. Their training will have been to work as a unit, protect each other, stand next to each other and fight together, yet they find themselves in a situation where one of their colleagues is assaulting them in the most profound and traumatic way.

It is a very common reaction during a sexual assault, even without alcohol or drugs in the system, to freeze. Sexual assault itself is almost always perceived as a life threatening attack, regardless of the level of physical violence. As a result, many people feel guilt and shame that they did not fight back, although this is a perfectly normal reaction to a violent attack.

The lack of physical injury and the lack of reporting the offence does not mean that the assault has not occurred, or that the person will not suffer the same traumatic responses that a violent assault would cause. In fact, it makes the development of trauma more likely, as silence is a trigger to trauma4.  Remaining silent, the victim is forced to seek help secretly, if at all, and the offender continues to believe that his actions were valid and his behaviour acceptable. Without reporting the incident, the victim will likely continue to see and work with the offender over and over again throughout their career in Defence.

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics – Sexual Assault in Australia : a Statistical Overview (4523.0) -7 September 2004
  2. Broderick Review – Research Testimonies – Experience as a Rape Crisis Counsellor.
  3. Weapons were rarely involved in sexual incidents reported to the International Crime Victims Survey.  Weapons were used in approximately two percent of cases reported to Australian police in 2001. The British Crime Survey found that physical force or violence was more likely to be used in rapes than sexual assaults.  As a result, rape victims sustained more physical injuries than victims of sexual assaults, but over 80 percent of injuries were classified as slight to moderate (for example, black eyes or extensive bruising).  Women were more than twice as likely to sustain physical injuries from attacks by partners and ex-partners than by strangers- Leivore. 
  4. G Wyatt, M Newcomb and C Notgrass, Rape and sexual assault III a research handbook. A Wolbert Burgess (ed) Garland Press, New York, 1991.