Sexual assault is any sexual contact without consent. It includes rape, attempted rape and any other kind of forced sexual act (kissing, touching, oral sex, taking pictures). It can affect people of all genders, ages, cultures and backgrounds.

Key points

  1. Women are much more likely than men to be sexually assaulted, but it also happens to men.
  2. Often, the person who commits the assault is someone you know.
  3. Sexual assault is never your fault.
  4. It is your choice whether you want to report it to the police.
  5. Unfortunately, sexual assault is quite common and most crimes are not reported
  6. Recovering from a sexual assault can take time, but there is help for you even if it happened a long time ago.
A note on child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse occurs when a child under 16 years old is used by an adult or older child in a sexual way. Children don’t usually report the abuse directly, especially as it tends to be carried out by someone they trust. Look out for these things:Physical signs:pain or itching around the genitalsbruising or bleeding around the genitals.Behavioural signs:changed behaviour around sleeping and eatingbehaving like a younger child, for example, bed-wettingknowing more about sex than other children their agedepression or withdrawalattention-seeking behaviourhurting themselvescomplaining about feeling unwell when they have no physical illness.If you suspect a child is being abused, contact Oranga Tamariki on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) where you can speak to a trained social worker.

What is consent?

Consent is required when two people agree to take part in sexual activity. Without consent from both people, sexual activity is illegal. In New Zealand, you must be over 16 years of age to consent to sexual activity. 

Consent is an enthusiastic yes, not just the absence of saying no. Consent is often established with talking and body language. Consent cannot be given if you are asleep, unconscious, too drunk or high on drugs.

Consent is a continuous process – just because you said yes initially, it doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. And just because you have had sex with this person in the past, this doesn’t guarantee consent to sex in the future. Consent must be given freely without pressure or coercion from the other person.

Read more about consent.

What should I do after a sexual assault?

Remember, if you have been sexually assaulted, it’s not your fault. The responsibility for sexual assault lies with the person who did it. It doesn’t matter whether you had been drinking, were out late at night, what kind of clothes you were wearing or if you had agreed to go out on a date with them.

It’s normal to feel upset, scared, angry, numb or shut down, and you might also feel disbelief, humiliation, disgust, guilt, regret, self-blame and want to keep it a secret. Talking about it with someone can help you work through these feelings.

Get help from your doctor

It’s a good idea to see your doctor so they can treat any injuries and protect you against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. They may also refer you to a specialised doctor to collect forensic evidence in case you decide to report the assault to the police. 

You are in charge of your body, and you can say no to any part of the examination. They may prescribe medication to stop an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. You may need to go to a follow-up appointment with your doctor to see if the medications have worked and to talk about what support you need.

Decide whether to report the assault to the police

It’s your choice whether or not to report your sexual assault to the police. If you decide to, you can take someone with you as a support person. The police can also help to arrange a medical assessment and make sure you have all the support you need.

If you are over 16 years old, you can see a doctor without having to report your assault – many are not reported and it’s up to you whether you do or not.

Get some support

Tell someone you trust – a friend, family/whānau member, teacher or church leader. Let them be there for you. You might not know what you need at times, but at least you have someone you can talk to when you need to.

Talk to a professional

It can also help to talk about what has happened with a counsellor or psychotherapist. They are used to helping people through these kind of experiences. You can do this straight away or many years later. There is free support available for you funded by ACC. Read about ACC’s sexual assault support

As well as any injuries and distress at the time, over time you might start to experience PTSDdepressionanxiety or thoughts about suicide. If this happens, it’s important to get help as soon as you notice yourself feeling this way.

Look after yourself

Take good care of yourself while you are recovering by:

  • getting plenty of sleep
  • eating nourishing food
  • doing gentle exercise
  • spending time with close friends
  • doing relaxing activities, such as baths, walks, good books and soothing music
  • avoiding alcohol and drugs.

Where can I get support?

Contact one of these specialised organisations for support:

Safe to talk 24/7 free and confidential helpline. Phone 0800 044334 or text 4334.
ACC sensitive claims Funded counselling options.
NZ Police Advice about what you can do after an assault.
Rape Crisis A non-profit, community agency that supports survivors of sexual violence to progress towards healing. Phone 0800 88 33 00.
Rape Prevention Education Free support and counselling to survivors of rape and sexual abuse.
Sexual Abuse Help Foundation Support for survivors in Wellington and Auckland for people of all ages and genders. 24/7 free crisis support line: Auckland 09 623 1700 Wellington 04 801 6655.
Sexual Abuse Prevention Network Education and advice with the goal of ending sexual abuse.
The Harbour An online information hub for survivors, those who have harmed and family/whānau and friends.
Victims’ information A website developed by the Ministry of Justice to help support victim-survivors of sexual violence through the court process and to help them make informed choices about the actions they take after they’ve experienced sexual violence.
Wellington HELP Free support for anyone who has been affected by sexual violence in the Wellington region.

Learn more

Consent BodySafe, NZ
Support services for sexual abuse in Auckland HELP Auckland, NZ
Sexual assault statistics Rape Prevention Education, NZ
Legal definitions around sexual abuse Rape Prevention Education, NZ
Advice for victims NZ Police
Your options SAATS Link, NZ
Getting specialist medical help after sexual assault SAATS Link, NZ
Sexual abuse Oranga Tamariki, NZ


  1. Fergusson DM, McLeod GFH, Horwood LJ. Childhood sexual abuse and adult developmental outcomes – findings from a 30-year longitudinal study in NZ Child Abuse & Neglect. 2013 Sept; 37(4): 664–674.
  2. Post-traumatic stress disorder management National Institute for Health Care and Excellence, UK, 2005
  3. Sexual violence research and data Ministry of Justice, NZ
  4. Latest crime survey reveals surprising high levels of unreported sexual violence Ministry of Justice, NZ, 2020

Reviewed by

Dr Phoebe Hunt is currently working as a registrar in sexual health at ADHB. Her interests are in women’s health, sexual health and lifestyle medicine. Phoebe is planning on starting GP training next year.

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