-- More than we KNOW?
-- More than we WANT to know?? CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE:
A variety of statistics have been cited for the incidence of childhood sexual abuse. Traditionally, rates of one in four girls and one in eight boys have been considered reasonable estimates. However, incidence figures obtained in actual studies have varied considerably outside these figures. In a recent comparison of figures, obtained across the globe, Stoltenborgh and colleagues (2012) [LINK] combined prevalence figures of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) reported in 217 publications published between 1980 and 2008, including 331 independent samples with a total of 9,911,748 participants. The overall estimated CSA prevalence was 127/1000 in self-report studies and 4/1000 in informant studies. Self-reported CSA was more common among female (180/1000) than among male participants (76/1000). Lowest rates for both girls (113/1000) and boys (41/1000) were found in Asia, and highest rates were found for girls in Australia (215/1000) and for boys in Africa (193/1000). These researchers argue their results "confirm that CSA is a global problem of considerable extent, but also show that methodological issues drastically influence the self-reported prevalence of CSA".
REFERENCE: Stoltenborgh et al (2012) [LINK]
Crome, S. (2006, September). Male survivors of sexual assault and rape. Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault. Retrieved from http://www.aifs.gov.au/acssa/pubs/wrap/acssa_wrap2.pdf -- [LINK]
Olafson (2011): Child Sexual Abuse: Demography, Impact, and Interventions,
J. Child & Adolescent Trauma, 4:1, 8-21 [LINK]
THE SAVI STUDY -- IRELAND
Various explanations have been offered for the diversity of figures. Certainly, incidence figures vary across self-report and informant-report studies. Different types of organisations report different incidence figures -- child protective service agencies produce figures at variance from those found by University research studies -- Runyan and colleagues (2005) [LINK]. One of the foremost explanations has been the diversity of definitions for what constitutes "sexual abuse" -- with even victims themselves not always seeing "research defined" abuse as abuse; with the simplest difference between contact- and non-contact abuse. In the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland study, child sexual abuse was defined as "as sexual abuse of children and adolescents under age 17 years" and found that (p. xxxii-xxxiii):
Childhood Experience of Sexual Violence
Girls: One in five women (20.4 per cent) reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood with a further one in ten (10.0 per cent) reporting non-contact sexual abuse. In over a quarter of cases of contact abuse (i.e. 5.6 per cent of all girls), the abuse involved penetrative sex — either vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Boys: One in six men (16.2 per cent) reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood with a further one in four-teen (7.4 per cent) reporting non-contact sexual abuse. In one of every six cases of contact abuse (i.e. 2.7 per cent of all boys), the abuse involved penetrative sex — either anal or oral sex.
Lifetime Experience of Sexual Abuse and Assault
Women: More than four in ten (42 per cent) of women reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime. The most serious form of abuse, penetrative abuse, was experienced by 10 per cent of women. Attempted penetration or contact abuse was experienced by 21 per cent, with a further 10 per cent experiencing non-contact abuse.
Men: Over a quarter of men (28 per cent) reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime. Penetrative abuse was experienced by 3 per cent of men. Attempted penetration or contact abuse was experienced by 18 per cent, with a further 7 per cent experiencing non-contact abuse.
Clearly, depending on the means of data collection, the sample studied, the definition used, the gender of the participants (and the respective stigma attaached to the particular types of abuse), together with other factors will all influenced how prevalent we consider childhood sexual abuse to be. Perhaps other, more important, questions need to be asked:
- Do we really want to know how prevalent childhood sexual abuse is?
- If we get a better grasp on how prevalent childhood sexual abuse is, what questions will we need to ask of ourselves? of the society that we are living in?
Those who offend against children have come from our society.
Inevitably they will return to our society, unless we follow the highly questionable (in my opinion) exaxmple of the United States.
Will they be enabled to have a stake in making sure we are all living in a safer society?
Let me leave you with some material for further consideration:
"It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering."Judith Herman (the originator of the term "Complex PTSD", 1982)
Preventing Sex-Offender Recidivism Through Therapeutic Jurisprudence Approaches and Specialized Community Integration
As Ken Clearwater, National Manager of New Zealand's Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust, acknowledges:
"In fact, we don't know what the real prevalence of sexual abuse during childhood really is, especially for males. We DO know that both men and women, but perhaps especially men, are reluctant, often extremely reluctant, to disclose their experience of being sexually abused. Many men experience shame as a result of their abuse and other forms of stigma are also quite common. Most (over 90%) will not disclose it, even when being interviewed in a psychiatric setting, unless they are specifically asked about it. However, we believe the prevalence is something like what has been found in Canada -- about one in four -- but it could well be higher. We just don't know for sure."