Sexual Assault and Harassment: Part 2
The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed“:
“Generating reliable data on sexual violence
According to a sexual violence expert from the United States, “rape appears in many guises” and, as such, requires careful investigative methods that capture the range of women’s and girl’s experiences. When researchers use narrow definitions of sexual violence, the reported rates of sexual crimes are likely to be relatively low. Crime-victim surveys reflect this: While they are useful because of their broad scope and comparable methodology, questions on sexual violence may not discriminate between different types of sexual assaults and/or perpetrators. In data presented by the WHO on a select number of crime-victim surveys, rates of reported sexual victimization (recorded in the five years to each survey) range from less than 2 percent in Bolivia, Botswana, China and the Philippines to 5 percent or more in Albania, Argentina, Brazil and Columbia.
Although still scarce and somewhat difficult to compare because of differences in data-collection techniques and definitions used, more targeted sexual violence surveys typically generate higher rates of reporting among participants. A variety of such surveys from the United States, for example, suggest that between 14 percent and 20 percent of the general population of women in that country will be raped at least once in their lifetime. In the Czech Republic, 11.6 percent of women responding to a national survey reported that they had experienced forced sexual contact, most commonly in the form of vaginal intercourse. Forty percent of a random sample of 420 women in Toronto, Canada, reported at least one episode of forced sexual intercourse since the age of 16. Specific subgroups are at an even greater risk. Research from the United States on women with disabilities, for example, indicates they are at one-and-a-half time greater risk of sexual victimization than women without disabilities.
The use of explicit questions in these surveys helps to overcome underreporting related to biases or preconceptions associated with the semantics of rape. Even employing the language of forced or coerced sex, rather than rape, can produce more accurate estimates of women’s and girl’s exposure to sexual violence. In a South African Study, 11 percent of the adolescents surveyed said they had been raped, but further 72 percent reported being subjected to forced sex. A survey of unmarried adolescents seeking abortions in 17 hospitals in China found that 48 percent had experienced sexual coercion at least once.
An increasing number of studies have focused on the issue of coerced or forced sexual initiation among adolescent girls. Average estimates of coerced first sex among adolescents around the world range from 10 percent to 30 percent, but in some settings, such as Cameroon and Peru, the number is closer to 40 percent. In a survey of high school students in Korea, 39 percent of sexually active females reported that their first experience of sex was the result of force or pressure from their partner. Studies of nine countries in the Caribbean estimated that incidents of forced first intercourse were as high as 48 percent.
Identifying the Perpetrators
Many studies have confirmed that most perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the victim. In fact, according to the WHO, “One of the most common forms of sexual violence around the world is that which is perpetrated by an intimate partner.” In a recent study of a representative sample of married and unmarried young men and women in Kenya, more than one in five sexually experienced young women had been subjected to nonconsensual sex. Those who had been married were at a greater risk of coercion than respondents who had never been married, and husbands were often identified as perpetrators. Other studies from around the world that have specifically investigated intimate-partner violence suggest that on average one in five women has been forced to have sex by her partner – in some settings those numbers are much higher. In general, sexual assaults by intimate partners are reported tow to eight times more often than assaults by strangers.
One sexual violence expert concluded, “The most important lesson learned about interpersonal violence in the past 20 years is how frequently it is perpetrated by apparently normal individuals.” Rather than verifying assumptions that rape is committed by a small number of disturbed men, research suggests that many men around the world share the attitudes and beliefs necessary to commit an act of sexual violence. In other words, the “high prevalence of rape largely reflects a high level of social tolerance of the crime.”
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