If someone does a sexual act to you without your consent, they are breaking the law. This includes things like unwanted sex or touching, or someone taking or sharing a naked picture of you without your permission.
If you’ve experienced sexual harm, you can get support from a dedicated sexual violence organisation like Victim Support, HELP Auckland or Rape Crisis Wellington. These organisations can also help you through the process of reporting to the police, if you want to (see: “Where to go for more support” at the bottom of this page for these organisations’ contact details).
Note: This section contains descriptions of sexual offences that might be distressing to read. Consider reaching out to a support organisation or a trusted friend. You can also come into a Community Law Centre to get free, non-judgemental, and confidential legal advice – you can bring a support person with you.
If you’re under 16, you can get more information about sex and relationships at www.youthlaw.co.nz/your-rights – click on “Sex and relationships”.
If you’re under 16 and looking for support about sexual harm, this section might not have the information you are looking for. The law is a bit different if the harm happens to someone under 16, because it is a more serious offence for someone to do a sexual act with a minor.
If you’re under 16, the law says you are too young to consent to someone doing a sexual act with you, even if you say you agree to it. This includes physical things like if someone touches intimate parts of your body, and other things, like sexting, or having a naked picture of you on their phone.
You should talk to an adult you can trust, or contact a support group like Youthline or What’s Up as soon as you can. To find their contact details, see: “Where to go for more support” at the bottom of this page.
Different types of sexual harm
Sexual violation includes any penetrative sex that happens without your consent.
“Penetrate” means to put something into something else. Penetrative sex means an act where someone puts something into another person’s genitalia or anus.
This includes when someone penetrates your genitalia with their penis without consent (legally, this is called “rape”).
It also includes when someone penetrates your genitalia or anus with part of their body, their mouth, or another object without your consent, or if they use any part of your body including your mouth to penetrate their genitalia or anus without your consent (legally, this is called “unlawful sexual connection”).
It is also breaking the law if someone attempts rape or unlawful sexual connection.
Sexual violation is the name of the crime. This is an umbrella term for both rape and unlawful sexual connection. From a legal point of view, there’s no difference between the seriousness of “rape” and “unlawful sexual connection”. Any actions that fall within the definition of sexual violation will be taken equally seriously and, if convicted, the offender will face the same maximum penalty.
If someone makes physical contact with you without your consent, this is called “assault.” Assault is divided into more specific offences in the Crimes Act. “Indecent assault” is a specific offence which covers physical contact of a sexual nature that happens without your consent. This includes, for example, if someone kisses or intentionally touches your genitals without penetration, when they don’t have your permission.
Indecent exposure includes when someone intentionally flashes or shows you their genitals without your consent.
Intimate visual recordings
Taking intimate photos or videos (“intimate visual recordings”) includes where someone takes a photo or video of you in a private space where you are naked or partially naked, or only wearing underwear. It includes photos or videos of you involved in a sexual activity, showering, using the bathroom, or getting changed. This also includes photos taken from beneath or under your clothing (sometimes called “upskirting”).
If someone takes intimate visual recordings of you without your consent, they are breaking the law.
Harmful digital communications
If a person shares harmful stuff about you online, this is covered by the Harmful Digital Communications Act (see: “Cyberbullying: Protections against online/digital harassment”).
If someone else shares an intimate visual recording of you online without your consent, this is an offence under that Act. The person who shares the recording is breaking the law. It doesn’t matter if you consented to the image being taken in the first place, and it includes if they post it publicly or share it privately with other people.
If someone shares other kinds of harmful information – for example, if someone is spreading rumours about your sex life online – the context and details of the communication will impact whether it is an offence or not. For more information about online harm that doesn’t include intimate visual recordings, see: “Cyberbullying”.