Reports of sexual assault in NSW up 42% in five years, new data reveals

<span>New data shows a rise in four major criminal offences in NSW over the past five years.</span><span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
New data shows a rise in four major criminal offences in NSW over the past five years.Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Reports of sexual assault in New South Wales have risen 42% in the past five years, according to data that also shows a “significant” rise in three other criminal offences.

The data, released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Boscar) in its quarterly update, showed reports of sexual assault had risen by 9.2% each year, on average, since 2019. Reports of sexual assault had increased 42% from 2019 to March 2024.

Boscar’s update found that, alongside sexual assault, there had been a significant rise in three other major criminal offences in the state over the five years to March 2024.

This included reports of domestic and non-domestic assault, which increased by 15% and 8% respectively, and motor vehicle theft by 8.5%. Robbery, stealing from motor vehicles and malicious damage to property decreased over the same period.

“Concerningly, of the four major criminal offences categories on the rise, sexual assault has shown the largest increase over the past five years,” the Boscar executive director, Jackie Fitzgerald, said.

Prof Julia Quilter, a University of Wollongong law expert, said it was not clear from the data why there had been an increase in reports of sexual assault. But she suspected it could be due, in part, to major law reform such as affirmative sexual consent laws passed three years ago.

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“On the one hand, this data could be viewed as a pretty worrying development that we’ve got a significant increase in assaults occurring in the community,” Quilter said.

“On the other hand, you could see this as one of the productive ways complainants are having more faith in the criminal justice system and are coming forward and reporting matters.”

Regardless, Quilter said it was likely putting pressure on the justice system to respond accordingly.

The figures come two weeks after Boscar released another study that tracked sexual assault cases in 2018.

It found that while the number of reported sexual assaults had nearly doubled in the past decade, only 15% of reports to police resulted in charges being laid, and only 7% of reports had resulted in guilty convictions.

“I find this report incredibly worrying given it shows such a large number of [sexual assault] charges are not proceeding to court,” Quilter said.

Boscar’s quarterly update found only 7% of sexual assault cases in the two years to December 2023 had legal proceedings commenced within 90 days of the report being made.

Boscar’s quarterly update also examined policing activities over the five years to March 2024, finding Taser use by the NSW police force had increased, on average, by more than 15% each year over the past five years.

Most of the increase came from officers using their Tasers to “draw and cover”, which involves activating the Taser but not firing it. In the 12 months to March 2024, officers used this method 1,405 times, almost double the amount in the 12 months to March 2020.

Meanwhile, searches conducted by police had fallen by 14%, on average, each year over the past five years. This included strip-searches, which fell 13%.