Spotlight on Girls & Young Women – The right to ethical sexual citizenship

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Special International Women’s Day Update

Spotlight on Girls & Young Women – The right to ethical sexual citizenship


We still live in a world where family violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment and sexual exploitation are far too common in the lives of women and girls

Western Australia has the highest rate of sexual violence in Australia (58% higher than NSW)[1]. Girls and young women are far more likely to be sexually assaulted than boys and young men, with the highest rate occurring in WA in the 10-14 year age group, with the second highest rate found in the 15-19 year age group.[2] People aged 19 years and under make up 60% of all sexual assault victims. Sexual assault offences perpetrated by children and young people aged between 10 and 19 years old increased by 36% from 2012 to 2014. Boys and young men aged 10-17 years old committed 16% of all recorded sex offences from 2012 to 2013.[3]

Over the course of their lives, 1 in 5 Australian females will experience sexual violence, with 99% by a male perpetrator, compared to 1 in 22 men[4]. 34% of women will have their first experience of street harassment before the age of 15, with 87% of females experiencing verbal or physical street harassment in their lives[5]. In a recent survey, 70% of Australian girls aged 15-19 reported believing that online harassment and bullying was endemic and that receiving unwanted sexually explicit content was common behaviour.[6]

Young women report feeling concern about the presence of males when exercising and worry about being judged, humiliated and harassed.[7]A Young woman’s movement in public spaces and participation outside the home is restricted by fear of harassment and violence.[8] 

A 2013 study shows significantly different sexual experiences for boys and girls. For instance, young men are more likely to have sexual partners younger than themselves, whereas young women are more likely to have an older sexual partner.[9] This has implications for the degree of power and control young women are able to exercise in early relationships with older male partners.

Young women face cultural pressures to appear situations which they may not like.[10] Overall, a lower proportion of young women report high positive sentiment after sex compared with young men.[11] A much higher proportion of young women report being influenced by their partner (61% versus 37%) into having sex when they don’t want to, and being frightened.[12]

Research has alerted us to the fact that pornography is readily available on the Internet; and that most boys aged from 13 years old have seen pornography online, with access being both accidental (often through search engines) and effortless. Because of this proliferation, pornography increasingly plays a significant role in shaping social norms in relation to sexuality, particularly among young people. Much pornographic content depicts unsafe sexual acts that are harmful for sexual health, and frequently overlook crucial notions of mutual pleasure (or female pleasure), respect and negotiating consent. Research has found that almost 90 per cent of scenes in pornographic videos portrayed physical aggression while nearly half contained verbal aggression, and that almost all (94%) showed the aggression perpetrated against women. Of equal concern is the depicted response from women to this violence, with most acts of aggression (9 in 10 in this study) being met with a neutral or a positive response by the women depicted.[13]

According to Maree Crabbe and David Cortlett, the ways young people understand and experience gender and sex are being influenced by what they—or their partners or peers— observe in porn. While there is diversity within pornography, Crabbe and Cortlett argue, there is also a sameness. Mainstream pornography communicates messages of male aggression and female sexual subservience; and that it is both a reflection and an amplification of the disrespectful attitudes and behaviours towards women seen in broader society.

Current national and international research supports local and anecdotal evidence reported by community based women’s health services regarding the impact of this sexual-social environment on girls and young women’s conceptions of sex, sexuality, sexual pleasure and how they perceive themselves in relation to sex and sexuality and as sexual beings.

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[1]  ABS. 4510.0 - Recorded Crime - Victims, Australia, 2016.

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics. Recorded Crime – Victims, Australia 2014 Table 7 [Internet].  2016 [cited 2017 June 19]. ABS Cat. No. 4510.0. Available from

[3]  ABS, 2014 & 2015; Warner & Bartels, 2015; CASA Forum, 2016.

[4] Cox P. Violence against women: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Safety Survey, 2012.  (ANROWS Horizons: 01.01/2016 Rev. ed.). [Internet].Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS); 2016 [cited 2017 June 19]. Available from

[5] Johnson M, Bennett E. Everyday Sexism: Australian Women’s Experiences of Street Harassment. [Internet]. The Australia Institute; 2015 [cited 2017 June 19]. Available from

[6]     Plan International Australia and Our Watch (2016) Don't send me that pic : Australian young women and girls report online harassment as endemic, p. 3. Available from: URL

[7]     van Bueren, Elliott and Farnam (2016) 2016 Physical Activity and Sport Participation Campaign : insights report, p. 7. Available from: URL

[8]     ibid., p. 20. Available from: URL

[9]     ibid., p. 31For instance, . Available from: URL

[10]    Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic) and Victorian Rural Youth Services (2013) Young people and sexual health in rural and regional Victoria, p. 14. Available from: URL

[11]    Mitchell, Kent, Heywood and et al. (2014) 5th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health. p. 38. Available from: URL

[12]    Whereas a higher proportion of young men were influenced by their peers (22% vs 9%).
Ibid., p. 28. Available from: URL