Sexual violence statistics

NewstalkZb reports:

Advocates are questioning just how many horrific figures they need to show the Government before sexual violence is taken seriously.

The National Network of Ending Sexual Violence Together has reiterated just how major a social problem it is in this country, as Awareness Week has come to a close.

It says approximately one in four girls and one in eight boys is likely to experience it before the age of 16.

This stat made suspicious, as “sexual violence” occurring to one in eight boys under 16 and one in four girls seemed rather high. As far as I can tell this stat comes from the Youth 2000 survey of 2,000 or so secondary school students.

The term “sexual violence” is rather extreme, as the question asked in the survey was “Have you ever been touched in a sexual way or made to do sexual things that you didn’t want to do?”.  Slightly unfortunately the lack of commas means it could be interpreted as “touched in a sexual way” or “made to do sexual things that you didn’t want to do” rather than “touched in a sexual way that you didn’t want to do”.

A better question would have been “Have you ever been touched in a sexual way that you didn’t want, or made to do sexual things that you didn’t want to do”.

Even assuming everyone understood the question, the term sexual violence is a bit extreme. The definition used covers a one off kiss, where the recipient then tells the other party they are not interested, and nothing further happens. It is certainly unwelcome sexual contact, and that would have been the better term to use, rather than a term which suggests rape or sexual assault.

Also worth noting that the claim of one in four and one in eight by before 16 is incorrect. They are the stats for 17 year olds, not 15 year olds who are a few percent lower.

The survey asks the teens about their reaction to the unwanted sexual contact. 62% of girls and 82% of boys said it was “not bad” or only “a little bad”. Please don’t think this is suggesting that unwanted sexual contact is a good thing – of course it is not. But when we see blunt statistics claiming that 25% of girls and 13% of boys have sexual violence before they are 16, it is useful to understand what the actual survey found.

At the more serious end of the scale, 12% of female students and 3% of male students said the first time they had sex, it was unwanted. That is still far too high a prevalence. 4% of male students and 1% of male students said they had made someone else do something sexually they did not want to. If the survey responses are honest, that suggests in around two thirds of unwanted sexual encounters, the other party did not know it was unwanted (or did know, and isn’t reporting it in this survey – which is likely to explain some of the difference).

Just been searching further, and it seems there was a repeat of the 2000 survey in 2007, and the prevalence rates of unwanted sexual contact dropped to 20% for female students and 5% for male students. So the  National Network of Ending Sexual Violence Together is using statistics that are no longer the latest. This does not help their credibility. They used old out of date stats, they got the ages wrong and they mislabeled responses as sexual violence instead of unwanted sexual contact.

The group’s chair Kim McGregor says 99 percent of offenders are not held to account because of under-reporting and low conviction rates.

This stat is just as dodgy. Unless McGregor is suggesting every 14 year old who kisses someone and gets told to stop (and stops) should be charged and convicted.

I blogged in 2009 some very useful research from MWA on the attrition rate for sexual violation complaints. Only 13% end in a conviction, but the major attrition factors are 34% are not considered valid offences, 11% no suspect is identified, 24% are not prosecuted and 18% have not guilty verdicts or the charges are withdrawn. If someone is found not guilty, I don’t think one can use this as saying offenders are not held to account unless you believe every person accused is in fact guilty.

Any level of sexual violence in New Zealand is unacceptable, and sexual violence involving teenagers is even worse. The motives of  National Network of Ending Sexual Violence Together are highly commendable, but they do their cause harm, not help, by using incorrect outdated statistics, and mislabeling them, in an attempt to generate headlines. The actual true levels of sexual violence are bad enough, that they do not need exaggerating.

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