Aust, NZ sex assault rate double average

Australia is a world leader in sexual assaults on women, but that may be because in many countries women don't report them, a study has found.

The rate of sexual assault in Australia and New Zealand is more than double the world average, according to a new report.

After several highly publicised rapes and murders of young women in India and South Africa, researchers from several countries decided to review and estimate prevalence of sexual violence against women in 56 countries.

The results, published in the UK medical journal The Lancet on Thursday, found that 7.2 per cent of women aged 15 years or older reported being sexually assaulted by someone other than an intimate partner at least once in their lives.

The study found that Australia and New Zealand has the third-highest rate, more than double the world average, with 16.4 per cent.

However, the study's authors have cautioned that the figures probably underestimate the true rate of sexual violence because in many areas women don't report assaults because of underlying social or cultural stigma.

NSW Rape Crisis Centre executive officer Karen Willis says Australia is doing a fairly good job recording sexual violence, but that doesn't mean we should sit back and think that all is wonderful.

"We have an endemic problem, it's probably no better or worse than anywhere else in the world," she told AAP.

"Unfortunately what we haven't done is a much better job of preventing it."

Ms Willis said that it was especially sad there hadn't been any change in the rate of sexual assault per capita this year.

She said that society, the government and the judicial system needed to work together to change the culture of some men.

"It's only a small group of men who commit these acts of violence, but behind that small group is another whole range of men, who are quite happy to talk in derogatory and demeaning ways about women or treat women in ways that indicate they're second-class citizens," Ms Willis said.

"Those sort of cultures then allow at the extreme end, those that use violence to feel more comfortable doing so."

The Centre Against Sexual Assault's Victoria spokeswoman Carolyn Worth agreed, saying it was important to remember that many sexual assaults were perpetrated by men who knew their victims.

"After these assaults a lot of their friends ask `what was she doing with him, she was drunk so why did she go back to his house'," she told AAP.

"It has nothing to do with any of that, women and men deserve to go about their business unmolested, full stop.

"No one has the right to have sex with anyone, they always need consent."

* Victims of sexual assault can call the Centre Against Sexual Assault on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017.

Source AAP

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