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SBS's article claims that:

19.1% of women had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15

SBS is generally a credible source and data looks like it has been compiled from the government data but I find it incredible that this data is of a developed country like Australia.

It's hard to imagine that nearly 1 in 5 adult women have been sexually assaulted and that there are over 500,000 incidents of violent abuse towards women per year. For a country of 20 million people (and 10 million women) that's one in 20 women per year!

So are these statistics true? If so, is there any explanation to explain this high percentage?

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    It's hard to imagine that nearly 1 in 5 adult women have been sexually assaulted Similar statistics are reported in the USA and in the UK. – ChrisW Sep 27 '14 at 12:34
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    You have cited too many claims here for one question. Please pick one claim and ask about that. "what may be some explanation to explain why they seem to high" Uh... I don't mean to be rude, but could it be as simple as you haven't been paying much attention to sexual assault statistics in developed countries? – Oddthinking Sep 27 '14 at 16:35
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    "It's hard to imagine that nearly 1 in 5 adult women have been sexually assaulted" - Is it? Have you ever actually been a woman? – Kilian Foth Sep 28 '14 at 18:52
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    @LorenPechtel This Australian survey includes this definition: "Sexual Assault is an act of a sexual nature carried out against a person's will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion, and includes any attempts to do this. This includes rape, [etc.], and attempts to force a person into sexual activity. Incidents so defined would be an offence under State and Territory criminal law." – ChrisW Sep 28 '14 at 20:11
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    @sashkello: I don't think your claim is supported. While definitions may vary between country, and the exact legal boundaries are a matter for juries, not pollsters, the definitions provided seem to exclude your claim that name-calling and playful pinching would be classified as sexual assault, rather than sexual harassment. – Oddthinking Oct 7 '14 at 6:23
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TL;DR: Yes, statistical evidence does suggest so.

According to page 7 of the 2005 Personal Safety Study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics,

17% (1,293,100) of women experienced sexual assault

Where sexual assault is defined as

Sexual assault includes acts of a sexual nature carried out against a person's will through the use of physical force, intimidation or coercion, or any attempts to do this. Unwanted sexual touching is excluded from sexual assault.

Edit: As ChrisW noted, there is a 2012 version of the report, which lists the rate at 19%, suggesting that the SBS simply copied the ABS number.

Edit 2: Another survey, the International Violence Against Women Survey: the Australian Component (2004) reported that "12% of women reported experiencing sexual violence by an intimate partner (current or former) over their lifetimes" and that "27% of women reported sexual violence by non-intimates such as other close family members, relatives, friends, colleagues and strangers (although a number of women reported violence from both intimate partners and others)", which implies that the total number of women who reported sexual violence could be anywhere from 27% to 39%.

  • There's a 2012 study too at abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0 – ChrisW Oct 3 '14 at 9:39
  • A problem is that the OP was doubting a 'notable claim' (from SBS) which is based on government statistics, writing, "... looks like it has been compiled from the government data but I find it incredible that this data is of a developed country like Australia." So do you think it's enough, to just answer with a reference to those same government statistics? – ChrisW Oct 3 '14 at 9:43
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    @ChrisW: Tricky one. This answers the skepticism that the media is reporting the data correctly. This provides a reference, so the SBS is off the hook. The ABS is generally well-regarded, and I am not sure how we will be able to do much better. One of the issues here is "personal incredulity" - to me, these numbers seem disappointingly high, but believable. – Oddthinking Oct 3 '14 at 12:18
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    @Oddthinking Can you provide a reference for the claim that the ABS is well-regarded? Ideally could you also find some evidence that it doesn't have the problems which (according to various comments against the OP) some American survey[s] allegedly has/have? I read the ABS's statement that its interviewers were trained, interviews were in-person, specific information was requested, etc., which sounded plausible to me, but my view (of whether the results are plausible) isn't on-topic: has the ABS methodology been peer-reviewed? Have its results been 'independently' reproduced, in Australia? – ChrisW Oct 3 '14 at 12:30
  • @ChrisW: All good questions. To resolve the first issue, we could see how it is cited (positively? negatively) by others in peer-reviewed literature. As you suggest, independent reproduction of the results would also be valuable - Raptortech offers the ACSSA survey to that end. – Oddthinking Oct 3 '14 at 12:42
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The statistics SBS quoted are as @raptortech97 cited from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the official statistician of the Commonwealth of Australia.

To answer the other arm of your question, they are generally in line with statistics reported by other OECD countries.

The Centre for Disease Control puts the lifetime rate at 18.4% for US women:

Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) women and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has for 2011 per annum (not lifetime) rates for "Sexual violence" here.

"Sexual violence" means rape and sexual assault; including sexual offences against children

Note the warning that cross-country comparisons are problematic:

Please note that when using the figures, any cross-national comparisons should be conducted with caution because of the differences that exist between the legal definitions of offences in countries, or the different methods of offence counting and recording.

It has Australia at 25 per 100,000 women per annum. Of the 29 OECD countries in the sample (Denmark, Korea and the United States are not included; Iceland and Turkey have no data for the relevant year and adopting a 2011 census figure of 62.3 million for UK population), Australia ranks 18th.

So, unfortunately the statistics are true.

Even more unfortunately, they are not particularly high by OECD comparisons.

  • Could you please explain further where you extracted the UNODC figures from? I found the New Zealand Sexual Violence rate for 2011, but not an Australian one. – Oddthinking Oct 7 '14 at 6:15
  • Click on the sexual violence link on the UN page and you get a spreadsheet. The data is in there for 2011. – Dale M Oct 7 '14 at 6:20
  • Ah, I see my problem. I looked there, but the default tab on the spreadsheet is for children. You need to change tabs to find the number that you (correctly) quoted. Thanks. – Oddthinking Oct 7 '14 at 6:36

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