Two days after thousands of women around the country rallied for justice, new crime statistics show a record number of reported sexual assaults in the Hunter last year.
The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures show 849 sexual assault reports were made to Hunter police in 2020, up from 754 the previous year.
The number of reported sexual assaults in the region has risen about 10 per cent a year from 577 five years ago.
Lake Macquarie local government area (258), Newcastle (200), Maitland (106), Cessnock (103), Port Stephens (99), Upper Hunter (23) and Dungog (14) set records for complaints in 2020.
The rate of reported sexual assaults per 100,000 people across the Lower Hunter, in Newcastle (121), Lake Macquarie (125), Maitland (124), Cessnock (172) and Port Stephens (135), was significantly higher than the NSW average of 86. Most of Sydney had report rates less than half of the Hunter's.
Marcia Chapman, the executive manager of domestic violence support service Jenny's Place, said she hoped female victims' public accounts in recent weeks would help remove some of the stigma, shame and embarrassment felt by many women who had been raped.
"It helps people realise that it's not their fault that this has happened to them," she said. "There is a fear factor in coming forward. It is a very difficult thing to do.
"That's why we were so proud of the people who did come forward at the rallies during the last week. It gives a voice to everybody who has had these experiences."
Ms Chapman said sexual assault laws were "not strong enough to protect people".
"Unfortunately, as long as people aren't speaking out about it, the less that's going to be done about it."
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BOCSAR said sexual assault was the only major offence to show a significant upward trend in the past two years, rising 10 per cent across the state year on year.
It said reports had risen significantly in the three categories of sexual assault: child victims reporting current assaults (up 21.3 per cent in two years), historic child sexual assault (up 11.2 per cent); and victims aged 16 and over (up 4.4 per cent).
Government research issued last year showed 87 per cent of women who experienced their most recent aggravated sexual assault by a male in the previous 10 years did not contact the police.
BOCSAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald and Newcastle police commander Wayne Humphrey told the Newcastle Herald that it was unclear if the steep rises were due to more assaults occurring or victims being more willing to file reports.
"It does indicate people are more comfortable to come to us," detective superintendent Humphrey said.
"It's such a horrific crime, so impactful on victims, that we understand that not every victim wants to put themselves through the trial process."
He said perpetrators were most commonly known to their victims.
"In terms of the predatory, unknown rapist, we don't see a lot of that. It's generally some type of relationship, whether it be quite brief.
"It's such a victim-focused crime. It is very difficult for the victims, and we do as much as we can to support them through the process.
"It's a crime that's spoken of at every morning briefing that I run. Every reported matter will be investigated to its absolute extent."
A bureau report last year showed about one in 10 sexual assault reports in 2019 by children and adult victims led to a conviction.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told a state parliamentary hearing last week that consent laws needed strengthening in light of the low conviction rate.
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There is a fear factor in coming forward. It is a very difficult thing to do.