“I felt really scared. It happened so fast.”

This is what Merry Nguyen, 20, an undergraduate student living in Wollongong said after she was hit by a male stranger on Burelli Street during her night out grocery shopping.

Assault cases in Australia’s criminal courts have grown by 16 per cent in the 2022–23 financial year, the highest in over 10 years, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The ABS statistics show that three in four assaults, or 74 per cent, occurred outside the home, in locations such as a pub, bar, or on the street.

“It is not safe to walk alone at night anymore,” said Ms Nguyen, who is still traumatised by the incident.

“It was around nine o’clock and I was walking to Woolworths to shop with my friends,” Ms Nguyen said.

“A man came from the dark side and started screaming at me, scolding me words that I could not understand.

“He pulled my hair back and I felt really scared that I could not even think of calling for help.”

Ms Nguyen said there was a young girl who saw what happened, and offered to drive her home. While the incident left no physical damage, Ms Nguyen said she suffered emotional distress caused by the trauma.


Image: Minh Thieu. Scene of the assault.

Earlier this year, there were a number of violent incidents in public spaces in NSW, in which victims were either fatally stabbed or wounded, including the Bondi Westfield stabbing incident.

Assault offences are associated with the direct infliction of force, injury or violence upon a person, or the direct threat of those, according to the ABS’s 2024 media release.

In 2022-2023 acts intended to cause injury (mostly assault) accounted for 16 per cent or 84,800 defendants, which was the highest recorded in a decade.

ABS head of Crime and Justice Statistics, Samantha McNally said that in 91 per cent of assaults defendants were found guilty.

“There were 74,526 defendants whose most serious offence was assault, which accounted for 14 per cent of all completed court cases across the country,” Ms McNally said.

Even though there was a decline in the victimisation rate for personal crimes between 2018 and 2023, physical assault and face-to-face threatened assault still remains higher than other types of personal crimes in the last 10 years.

New South Wales alone had 14 per cent of the non-domestic assault rate, with more than 1800 additional incidents in 2023, according to data from BOSCAR.

Speaking to UOWTV, executive director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Jackie Fitzgerald said violent offences involved 13 major crimes reported in the state.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in non domestic assault up about three or four per cent a year over the past five years and sexual assault has also increased by a similar proportion, Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Reports of sexual assault over the past five years was up nearly 4 per cent.”

Audio: Executive Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Jackie Fitzgerald speaks about crime rate in NSW

Women are more likely to feel unsafe than men

The death of six victims in the mass stabbing at Bondi Junction’s Westfield has left shoppers, especially women, feeling scared about general safety in public space, according to an ABC report.

Out of six victims, five of them are females and many of those who were injured are women. The NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb told the ABC that the attacker’s targets were clearly women.

Following the stabbing murders, there has made a long list of physical attacks across NSW.

In May, there were three violent assaults in seven days, including a 45-year-old woman who was bashed unconscious and left on a public walking track for several hours.

The above timeline highlights the most serious of incidents in the state, involving  physical assaults in public spaces.

The ABS shows that three in four assaults (74 per cent) happen outside of the the home.

ABS data also reveals general feelings of personal safety and the distribution by genders that shows one in three men were happy to use public transport after dark, with only one in five women feeling the same.

ABS head of Crime and Justice Statistics Will Milne in a statement said that males were more likely to be perpetrators in physical assault cases.

“Both men and women were three times more likely to experience physical violence by a male perpetrator than by a female perpetrator,” Mr Milne said.

University of Wollongong undergraduate Sophie Tran said she was not comfortable walking alone after dark.

“I think I prefer going with someone [that] is trustworthy at night, like my friends,” Ms Tran said.

“I think it would be dangerous for me as a young female to go alone [at night].”

Wollongong resident Arshwinnie Ganesan said that she had to walk alone after work in the CBD area, and at nights, when people were clubbing or drinking, it did not feel safe.

“The junkies or homeless people, they might follow you. Every time I walk, I always have to just look back a bit and look everywhere,” Ms Ganesa said.

“Be aware of your surroundings, that’s my advice.”

Victims are still sitting in silence

Statistics from ABS about crime rates for assault shows how difficult it is for women to get justice when they are physically assaulted.

Many victims do not make police reports, describing the incidents as “unimportant”, or they were more likely to confide in family and friends for support, instead of turning to more formal institutions, an ABS report said.

Ms Fitzgerald said that it was difficult to know if the increase in figures related to more people reporting the incidents or if there has been an increase in the prevalence crimes.

“We can’t rule out that more people are just coming forwards and informing the police about their experiences of crime, because both of those crimes (physical assault and sexual assault) have a low rate of reporting,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

In a recent media release, ABS head of Crime and Justice Statistics Will Milne also disclosed gender distribution in terms of physical assault reporting, including the impacts of physical assault on men and women.

“Around two-thirds of women sought advice or support for the assault, including nearly half who turned to a friend or family member,” Mr Milne said.

“In addition, in the 12 months after the assault, nearly two-thirds of women and just over a quarter of men experienced anxiety or fear for their personal safety.”

Anyone experiencing distress due to crime or personal safety issues can contact 1800Respect  or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Physical assault, robbery, sexual assault and threats to harm can be reported to NSW Police, or call 000 in an emergency.