Sexual offences and child abuse
What is a sexual offence?
Sexual offences are generally defined as a sexual activity that a person has not consented to, and it can refer to a broad range of sexual behaviours that make the victim feel uncomfortable, frightened or threatened. Sexual offences can include rape, incest, indecent offence, child sexual offence and sexual molestation.
What is child abuse?
Child abuse is an act or omission that endangers a child's physical or emotional health or development. By definition, abuse is not an accident, but neither is it always the intention of the person to inflict harm or injury.
Child abuse may be physical, sexual or emotional, and may occur through neglect and in some cases harm may be accumulative.
There are many professionals who are legally required to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Human Services (DHS) Child Protection Service. Such professionals include:
In an emergency call Triple Zero (000)
For more information see
- (24 hours) national telephone line for victims of sexual assault and family violence
- (7 days, 8am-11pm)
- (24 hours)
- (24 hours) for women and children or
What kinds of behaviours count as sexual offending?
Sexual offending refers to a broad range of sexual behaviours by another person that make you feel uncomfortable, frightened, threatened. It doesn't always include physical harm or injury but it can do.
Sexual offences can include any or all of:
- unwanted touching, fondling, kissing, grabbing
- being made to look at, or pose for, pornographic photos
- incest and interfamilial child sexual offence
- strangling or stalking in combination with the above.
- digital, photographic and/or social media exposure of any of the above
These acts may also be a feature of a broader pattern of violence. Evidence shows that a perpetrator committing sexual offending within a family violence context is a high risk of future harm to that victim.
Forms of sexual degradation and humiliation, whilst not in themselves criminal offences should still be reported to police.
About sexual offences
Sexual offences are serious crimes that can have a long lasting effect on victims/survivors, their families and the community. Any form of a sexual offence is serious and everyone is entitled to protection under the law.
Sexual offenders choose to commit these crimes; they are responsible for their actions. No portion of blame or responsibility lies with the victim.
Offenders come from all walks of life. They can subject adults, young people and/or children to sexual crimes regardless of whether the victim is an intimate partner, a family member, a workmate or friend, an acquaintance, a stranger or anyone else.
Offending may be ongoing, occasional or a single incident, and it happens more frequently than people realise.
Victoria Police is committed to providing the highest level of service to all victim/survivors of sexual offences regardless of age, gender, cultural background or disability. We have dedicated teams of detectives who are specialists in the investigation of sexual offences and child abuse. Our work is guided by the Victoria Police Code of Practice for the Investigation of Sexual Assault.
How do I know what is and isn't a sexual offence?
Sexual offences are a violation of human rights. Often people wonder whether what has been done to them is rape or another sexual offence, so we want to let you know how the law sees sexual offending. It is the role of the police detective to work out whether there will be enough evidence for it to be considered a criminal offence.
Consent underpins the way the law considers these offences
The law states this means 'free agreement' and that both parties must agree to a sexual act in order for there to be consent.
Because the law says both parties must freely agree to the sexual act in order for there to be consent, it also outlines a number of circumstances in which someone is automatically considered as unable to give consent.
Including if you:
- are drunk
- are drug affected
- are asleep or unconscious
- are unable to understand the sexual nature of what is happening
- submit because of force or fear of force or harm (including to someone else)
- are held against your will
- are a child
- are mistaken about the identity of the other person
- are led to believe it is for a medical or hygienic purpose
- consent then later withdraw consent to the act
Children 12 years and under, are legally regarded as not being able to give informed consent to sexual activity so it is automatically an offence to engage in any sexual offence with a child under 12 years of age.
The law acknowledges that for child victim/survivors and their families, sexual and physical abuse is especially complex because of their age, reduced capacity to self-protect, often familial relationships with the offender and the secrecy that surrounds the abuse.
How do police respond?
Sexual offences and child abuse are crimes that require a specialist response from police.
What do I do if I have just been sexually assaulted?
- go somewhere you feel safe
- call Triple Zero '000'
- don't disturb the area where the offence happened
- if possible, refrain from showering or bathing as this may destroy evidence that can be used in court
- do not wash or discard the clothes you wore during the offence
If you are concerned about something that has happened to you, we encourage you to come and speak with us. This is often described as 'reporting'. You need not worry about your actions or choices, you will be taken seriously. Our investigators are trained to understand these complex situations.
If you are considering reporting an offence to police, this booklet will help you understand your options and what happens next.
It is available in 20 languages and Easy English.
Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams
Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs) are staffed by experienced and qualified Victoria Police detectives specially trained to respond to and investigate sexual offences and child abuse.
Some SOCIT teams work in Multi-Disciplinary Centres (MDCs) which offer a range of services for victims of sexual offences under the one roof, away from the police station environment. You can find a fact sheet with more information about MDCs on our Publications page.
The SOCIT response prioritises the needs of victims. Any investigation is a victim-led process. They aim to ensure your safety and wellbeing; your ability to regain control of your circumstances; and to provide access to support, information, justice and services appropriate to your need.
Remember, any form of a sexual offence is serious and everyone, including you, is entitled to protection under the law.
Related Victoria Police information
For more information see
Reviewed 19 March 2019