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Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Office (SeMPRO)

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Understanding Sexual Misconduct

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Those who are survivors of sexual assault or have trauma relating to a sexual offence may find some of the information below confronting and upsetting. Please call SeMPRO if you need to speak to a professional who is experienced in responding to trauma.

SeMPRO recognises that both men and women can be affected by sexual assault. SeMPRO's services are available to men and women, as they both experience trauma and distress and face many barriers to reporting what has happened to them, especially in Defence.

What is sexual misconduct?

A working description of the term 'Sexual Misconduct' has been developed to guide SeMPRO operations. Sexual Misconduct includes sexual offences1 and serious incidents of a sexual nature2 which can cause trauma3, including:

  • Repeated demeaning behaviours of a sexual nature;
  • Extreme exclusion based on gender, sexual orientation, or gender identification;
  • Persistent unwanted/unwarranted attention of a sexual nature; and
  • Recording, photographing or transmitting incidents and images of sexual misconduct.

What is sexual assault?

While sudden stranger sexual assault attacks do happen, they are relatively rare; most victims know the person who assaults them. Most rapes occur in the victim's home, or when someone is either incapable of freely giving or maintaining consent to the sexual act or to have sex. This may include when s/he is under the influence of alcohol or s/he has been coerced; perhaps as in the context of Defence through fear (i.e. being told they will fail a training session if they do not agree) or other misuse of power by the offender.

The reality is that the majority of sexual assaults conflict with society's preconceived idea of what rape and sexual assault 'looks like'. What usually springs to mind when we see the word "rape" or "sexual assault" is the image of a man in a balaclava or ski mask, jumping out from behind a bush, brandishing a knife and physically assaulting a woman. In this scenario, the woman fought back valiantly, sustaining clear defence wounds, until she was overpowered and was raped. This scenario was, until recently, discussed in the media as "real rape" and contrasted markedly with what is now accepted as reality.

Simple Facts

  • Any sexual act in which one party does not freely, without coercion, consent to participate is a sexual offence.
  • Everyone has the right to change their mind. If a person changes their mind about engaging in a sexual act (even if the act has commenced), once they indicate this to you - stop. If you do not stop, you are committing a sexual offence.
  • If a person is incapable of giving informed, coherent consent, then consent cannot be deemed to have been given and any sexual act performed on a person incapable of giving consent is a sexual offence.
  • You cannot rely on the presumption of consent or the 'mistaken' but honest belief that consent has been given - if it is not explicitly given freely, it is not consent.
  • The effects of being subjected to a sexual offence are profound and can be life altering.

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn't involve physical harm. Most people experience sexual assault as a life threatening incident. However, it is not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised.

Causes of emotional or psychological trauma

An event will most likely lead to emotional or psychological trauma if:

  • It happened unexpectedly.
  • You were unprepared for it.
  • You felt powerless to prevent it.
  • It happened repeatedly.
  • Someone was intentionally cruel.
  • It happened in childhood.

Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by single-blow, one-time events, such as a sexual assault. Trauma can also stem from ongoing, relentless stress, such as not being able to talk about what happened to you, or by being disbelieved or vilified when you did disclose.

  1. Sexual Offences cover a range of criminal offences (including sexual assault/rape and acts of indecency) against a person that involve a physical act of a sexual nature, sometimes accompanied by violence that is committed against a person without their consent.
  2. Incidents of a sexual nature have an element relating to gender, sexual orientation, gender identification and/or sexual language and elements of intimidation, aggression and/or violence.
  3. Trauma can be as the result of a singular event or a series of incidents and experiences and can impair normal functioning, reactions, decision making, behaviours and relationships. SeMPRO recognises that trauma can manifest itself in a variety of ways and at different points in time dependent on the individual and the incident. The extent to which a person recovers from a traumatic incident is largely linked to the nature of support offered to the individual on disclosure. SeMPRO acknowledges that a poor response to a victim can compound her/his trauma.