SEX assault victims are coming forward in record numbers due to widespread community debate about consent, and media coverage of high profile cases, researchers say.
The latest crime statistics released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research on Thursday show a sharp and unexpected jump in sexual assaults reported to NSW Police in March 2021.
Police recorded 940 sexual assaults in March 2021, 300 more than in February 2021 and 61 per cent more than the monthly average.
The number of assaults reported in the Hunter Valley went from 31 in March 2020 to 52 in March 2021, an increase of 68 per cent, while in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie the numbers jumped from 41 to 61, an increase of 49 per cent.
The Bureau says the increase appears to be due to a "temporary rise in victim willingness to formally report sexual violence."
"The timing of the increase closely aligns with saturation media coverage of numerous sexual assault allegations in late February and March 2021," a statement released by the bureau on Thursday says.
"Much of that discussion focused on the appropriate response to sexual assault allegations," the report said.
A petition containing hundreds of first-hand accusations of sexual violence and misconduct contributed to higher levels of pubic interest, followed by another high-profile sexual assault allegation involving the Commonwealth Attorney General.
"This triggered a wide-spread community conversation about sexual violence and consent of a scale not previously seen."
"These instances significantly increased public engagement with issues of sexual violence, victim rights, consent and gender equality," the report said.
That was also reflected in the number of weekly online searches for 'Sexual Assault' in NSW from January 2019 to May 2021.
Sexual assaults involving victims aged 13 to 20 years accounted for two thirds of the increase and the vast majority involved female victims.
The rise in reported sexual assaults was as much to do with reports of recent, contemporary assaults as it was related to reports of historical offences, the report said.
NSW Attorney General and Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Mark Speakman said that while the spike came off the back of intense media coverage and long overdue public discussion, it also demonstrated that these crimes were significantly underreported.
"Our message to victim-survivors is please know that you are not alone, and that help is available."
State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said it takes incredible courage to re-live trauma and come forward.
"It is important that as a community, we continue these conversations and keep encouraging people to come forward."
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