WA high school girls are facing undue pressure to have sex and some struggle to recognise sexual assault when it happens, says Australia's youth representative at this year's United Nations gender equality forum.
Anna Johnson, who chairs the Perth chapter of Young UN Women Australia, said young women need to be better educated about consent and sexual assault because many still believed it was something committed by "a stranger on a dark street" rather than someone they know.
About 80 per cent of sexual assaults involve people known to the victim and only about 20 per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police.
Ms Johnson will fly to New York on Friday to attend the 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women as the UN Women Australia Youth Delegate. In preparation for the trip, Ms Johnson said she had been talking to young women from around the State and the nation.
"One thing that struck me as being quite troubling was from the very young women - high school age - about the pressure on them to have sex and maybe a lack of understanding about consent in sexual assault," she said. "It is very scary.
"I think it comes down to a lack of education but there's a perception that sexual assault involves a stranger on a dark street and they don't necessarily perceive it as happening within a relationship.
"So some of them were describing situations with their boyfriends or someone they knew where it sounded to me a lot like sexual assault, where someone was being coerced or pressured into having sex, but they didn't really see it that way."
WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Yvonne Henderson said recent research suggested a "disturbingly high" number of young women had had sex that was either unwanted or under duress.
"It is disturbing if they (young women) think sexual assault doesn't refer to sex without consent or under duress," she said.
Ms Johnson was chosen to attend the UN forum because of her advocacy work on legal and policy reform for women experiencing violence. The commission, which runs from March 4 to 15, will evaluate progress on gender equality and make policy.
UN Women Australia's Perth chapter will hold its annual fundraising breakfast on March 7 - the day before International Women's Day. This year's special guest speaker will be PNG magistrate Rosie Johnson.