National Women's Health Policy

Violence and sexual and reproductive health

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Unsafe sex practices are exacerbated by gendered power relations, which can make women of any age less able to refuse sex and more vulnerable to sexual coercion and unwanted sex. Young women can be particularly vulnerable. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005 Personal Safety Survey found that, since the age of 15 years, 19.1 per cent of women and 5.5 per cent of men have experienced sexual violence (sexual assault or threat).

Rates of alcohol use and binge drinking have increased among young people. Binge drinking is associated with increased perpetration of sexual violence, coercive sexual activity and victimisation.220 For females, 22.1 per cent in year 10 at school and 27.4 per cent in year 12 reported binge drinking three or more times in the previous fortnight.221 Twenty-three per cent of sexually active secondary school students reported that they were intoxicated or under the influence of illicit drugs at their most recent sexual encounter.222 Although lower than young men, for young women this figure was up from 18 per cent in 2002 to 20 per cent in 2008.

Intimate partner violence has been shown to have significant implications for women’s reproductive and sexual health.223 These can include unplanned pregnancies, high rates of pregnancy termination, low birth weight and increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. 224

In adolescence, key issues include dating and courtship violence and rape. Young women are at greater risk of violence—12 per cent of women aged 18–24 years experienced at least one incident of violence, compared to 6.5 per cent of women aged 35–44 years and 1.7 per cent of women aged 55 years and over. Young women who have experienced intimate partner violence are three times more likely to experience a miscarriage, report having herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), and 11 times more likely to report hepatitis C.225 Of secondary school students, 28 per cent of sexually active females and 23 per cent of males had experienced unwanted sexual intercourse. While 13 per cent reported pressure from their partner as the reason, more reported the influence of alcohol (16 per cent). A drug or drugs other than alcohol were reported in 6 per cent of cases.226

The reproductive years are a time when women may be more vulnerable to abuse and violence, with intimate partner violence being strongly associated with early pregnancy and adverse pregnancy outcomes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey found that, of those women who experienced violence by a previous partner, 39.5 per cent had experienced violence during pregnancy, and 16.8 per cent of the violence occurred for the first time during the pregnancy.227

Many refugee women have fled places of conflict, where rape, sexual torture and slavery are used as weapons of war. Rates of sexual violence are also high in refugee camps. This can lead to various sexual and reproductive health issues including increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and birth complications, and mental health issues.228