What do we know about sexual violence?

Generally speaking, groups in society who are more vulnerable are also at greater risk of violence. More than a third of all women worldwide – 35.6% – will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, usually from a male partner. The highest levels of violence against women are in Africa, where 45.6% of women will suffer physical or sexual violence. In low and middle income Europe, the proportion is 27.2%[87]. LGBT people and young people are also at higher risk of violence and bullying[88].

The problem of violence receives more attention than it did in the past and many organizations now have policies on various forms of bullying and harassment. However, little attention has been paid to the wider context of power relations inside peer cultures and the communities in which those peer cultures are formed.

Along with other kinds of crime, the numbers of violent and sexual offences recorded by the police are falling. Police forces report fewer cases of rape, domestic violence and child abuse. The number of incidents of domestic violence referred to the CPS by police in 2013 to the end of March fell by 7,000, while 1,400 fewer rapes and 2,200 fewer cases alleging child abuse were referred. Sexual offences decreased by 3% whilst homicide offences fell by 4% and other violent offences fell by 6%[89]. It is not known whether this means that these crimes are actually decreasing, and some suggest that the decreases show that police are not doing enough to bring cases to court. Conviction rates for domestic violence and rape have risen.

As with most crime, only a small proportion of rape is reported to the authorities, probably about 11%. Rape can occur in a range of circumstances. The type of rape that receives most publicity is stranger rape, but most rapes are carried out by someone the victim knows. Many of those who are particularly vulnerable – because of mental health problems, learning disabilities, or a history of being in abusive relationships – experience repeated rape and sexual assault, as do young people from troubled backgrounds, in care homes or involved in gang culture[90]. The most recent NATSAL survey suggested that 1 in 10 women and 1 in 71 men had experienced sex against their will since the age of 13 and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men had experienced someone attempting to have sex with them against their will. In most cases the person responsible was someone known to them[91].

Young people may regard relationship violence with resignation, with girls shouldering the burden of emotion work, taking on responsibility for both their own and their partners’ emotions[92]. Recent research suggests that sexual coercion, control, harassment and violence is not confined to older teens. A survey into the prevalence and incidence of school bullying in Wales[93] indicated that Year 6 and Year 7 pupils reported the highest level of sexual bullying.

There are problems in how to define what constitutes sexual violence, bullying or harassment. It is important to consider children’s accounts of what they consider to be unwanted, offensive and hurtful behaviour as constituting sexual violence. This is important given that a singular act or event or set of practices can have multiple meanings. For example ‘bra pulling’ may be experienced by girls both positively as a welcome sign of another person’s romantic or sexual interest and negatively as an invasive practice and humiliating recognition of a girls’ sexual maturation[94].

Are STIs on the increase?

87. WHO (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/85239/1/9789241564625_eng.pdf
88. McNamee, H., Lloyd, K. & Schubotz, D. (2008). Same sex attraction, homophobic bullying and mental health of young people in Northern Ireland. Journal of Youth Studies, 11, 33-46; Warwick, I., Chase, E. & Aggleton, P. with Sanders, S. (2004). Homophobia, sexual orientation and schools: A review and implications for action. Nottingham: DfES. See also http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-betterproject/
89. Office for National Statistics (2012). Fall in Crime, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/period-ending-december-2012/sty-crime-in-englandand-wales–year-ending-december-2012.html
90. Stern, V. (2010). The Stern Review. Home Office, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110608160754/http:/www.equalities.gov.uk/PDF/Stern_Review_acc_FINAL.pdf
91. NATSAL (2013). Sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain: Highlights from Natsal-3, http://www.natsal.ac.uk/media/823260/natsal_findings_final.pdf?utm_source=2013%20Findings&utm_medium=Download&utm_campaign=Infographic%20findings%202013; Macdowall, Wendy, et al. (2013). Lifetime prevalence, associated factors, and circumstances of non-volitional sex in women and men in Britain: findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3). The Lancet, 1845-1855.
92. McCarry, M. (2010). Becoming a ‘proper man’: Young People’s Attitudes about Interpersonal Violence and Perceptions of Gender. Gender and Education, 22(3), 17-30.
93. Bowen, R. & Holtom, D. (2010). A Survey into the Prevalence and Incidence of School Bullying in Wales, http://wales.gov.uk/statistics-and-research/surveyprevalence-incidence-school-bulling/?lang=en
94. Renold, E. (2002). ‘Presumed Innocence’: (hetero)sexual, homophobic and heterosexist harassment amongst primary school girls and boys. Childhood, 9(4), 415-433; Barter, C. & Berridge, D. (Eds.) (2010). Children Behaving Badly? Peer Violence between Children and Young People. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell; Barter, C. (2009). In the name of love: Partner abuse and violence in teenage relationships. British Journal of Social Work, 39(2), 211-233; Barter, C., McCarry, M., Berridge,. D & Evans, K. (2009). Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships. NSPCC, http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/findings/partner_exploitation_and_violence_report_wdf70129.pdf; Rivers, I. & Duncan, N. (2013). Bullying: Experiences and discourses of sexuality and gender. London: Routledge.

Are STIs on the increase?

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