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What is Sexual Violence?

The World Health Organisation uses a broad definition of sexual violence and describes it as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, sexual harassment, or act directed against a person's sexuality, using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting including but not limited to home or work. Sexual violence can include, rape, the threat of rape, attempted rape, sexual harassment, sexual coercion and sexual contact with force.

Sexual violence can be perpetrated by, or against, anyone regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. However, not all people are at risk of being targeted for sexual violence. Overwhelmingly, sexual assault of adults is perpetrated by men against women. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. Figures reported to New Zealand Police indicate 99% of adult sexual violence is perpetrated by men. Read more here about who is targeted for sexual violence, and who perpetrates sexual violence.

The 2006 Crime and Safety Survey found that approximately 29 percent of women and 9 percent of men experience unwanted and distressing sexual contact over their lifetime. Sexual offences were the fifth most common offence disclosed in the survey.

Sexual violence takes many forms and can take place in a variety of contexts and circumstances.

Who

Sexual violence can be perpetrated by, or against, anyone regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability.

However, not all people are at equal risk of sexual violence and research indicates that risk of being targeted for sexual violence varies according to a range of personal and socio-demographic factors such as gender, age and relationship to the perpetrator. Read more about risk factors for sexual violence here.

Gender is a major predictor of sexual victimisation, with women having a disproportionately higher risk of sexual victimisation than men. Also, being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered is a risk factor, including victimisation from partners and victimisation that occurs as a result of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence.

Research indicates that young women and Māori women are almost twice as likely to experience sexual violence and young Pacific peoples also report high rates of unwanted sexual contact. In addition to this, studies indicate that sexual violence is more likely to be experiencedby people with a disability and people who have been abused as children or adolescents.

Offenders

Just as there is no typical survivor, there is no typical offender. However, research suggests that offenders are more likely to be people that are known to the survivor with over one-third of sexual offences committed by current partners, a quarter a friend, one in 10 by a boyfriend or girlfriend and one in 20 incidents a work colleague. From the Report of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence.

The National Collective of Rape Crisis statistics for the years 1992-1996 found that 92.6% of survivors knew the offender.

The majority of perpetrators in a New Zealand Study of survivors of child sexual abuse, were male family members, (with uncles being the most frequently reported perpetrator) with a median age of 21 years or older.

Impacts

Although there is no ‘normal’ or correct way to respond to sexual violence, many survivors experience major impacts to some aspect of their lives. Sometimes these impacts also affect friends and whanau.

Ministry of Women’s Affairs research found that survivors experienced a number of different impacts including:

Physical health

Including disruptions to sleep, such as insomnia and nightmares

Physical ailments, such as migraines, auto-immune diseases, gynaecological issues, digestive problems, and eating problems.

Personal and social wellbeing

Such as, changes in personality, withdrawing socially, becoming isolated and reclusive, feeling unable to sustain a social life as well as alcohol or substance use/abuse.

Mental and emotional health

Including generalised feelings of fear and anxiety and also feeling anxious or afraid about specific events, such as the perpetrator returning.

Depression; flashbacks; anger, dissociation; self-harming behaviours; and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Intimacy and relationships

Impacts on intimacy and relationships included, a loss of trust in men, confusion around sexuality, a feeling of loss of safety which affected everyday relationships and communication.

Other impacts included:

Disruptions to work and study patterns, loss of motivation, reduced concentration, overworking to distract from feelings, a loss of self-esteem and confidence, increase in self-doubt, self-blame and self-hatred.

Impacts on supporters

Research also indicates that non-perpetrator family members, partners, friends and children of victim/survivors are affected by a sexual assault and its aftermath. Studies have found that intimate partners of victim/survivors may experience secondary trauma as a result of the sexual assault of their partner.

Similar studies suggest that friends also play a crucial role in supporting survivors, and the effects of the sexual assault on these individuals can also be profound. Following the experience of sexual violence on a family member or loved one, supporters may experience considerable emotional distress and other physical and psychological impacts that can disrupt their lifestyles and family structures. Read more about secondary victimisation here.

Prevalence

Reporting rates

Sexual violence is the least likely crime to be reported to police. Research suggests that only 9% of all sexual violence offences are reported to police.

There are a number of reasons why sexual violence has an extremely low reporting rate, many survivors consider the offence to be a private matter and Ministry of Justice research indicates that just under half (43%) of sexual offences were not reported for this reason.

Statistics

Sexual violence is considered highly prevalent in New Zealand and can have a serious and long-impact on the physical and mental health of survivors. However, there is no one definitive number that provides the true rate of sexual violence in New Zealand; rather the following statistics provide an indication of the prevalence of sexual violence in New Zealand:

Children and Young people:

A cohort study of New Zealand children spanning from birth till the age of 25 found that sexual abuse was reported by 16% or around 1 in 6 people before the age of 18. Read the study here. A World Health Organisation multi-country study found rates of child sexual abuse in New Zealand for adult women to be 28% (in rural setting) and 23% (in urban settings), or around 1 in 4 women. This was higher than any of the other 10 countries in the multi-country study. Read the study here.

Recent international research indicates that 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16.

The Youth 2000 Survey found that 26% of female students, and 14% of male students, reported unwanted sexual contact which was defined as being touched sexually or being made to do sexual things that they did not want to.

Of those who had experienced unwanted sexual contact most said it was ‘not bad’ or ‘a little bad’. However, 18% of these male students and nearly twice as many of these female students (38%) reported that last time they had experienced unwanted sexual contact it was bad (pretty bad, really bad or very bad).

Only 39.9% of young people who had experienced sexual abuse had disclosed the experience to someone else.

In the Youth 2000 Survey it was reported that 13.1% of students stated they had received unwanted sexualmessages, most commonly by mobile phone (52.0%), the internet (43.9%) or letters or notes (4.1%)

Ministry of Women’s Affairs research suggests that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are twice as likely as non-victims to be sexually assaulted later in life.

Women and Men

The 2006 Crime and Safety Survey found that approximately 29 percent of women and 9 percent of men experience unwanted and distressing sexual contact over their lifetime. Sexual offences were the fifth most common offence disclosed in the survey.

In the New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims 2001 victimisation was often experienced more than once, even within a relatively short period of time. This is supported by Ministry of Women’s Affairs research which found that at least 50% of girls and women who are sexually assaulted are likely to be sexually revictimised.

The New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims 2001 also indicated that the rates of sexual violence were higher still for young women (26% of 17- 24 year olds) and for Māori women (23%).

Almost half of the survivors who had been sexually assaulted said they were 'very much' or 'quite a lot' affected by the most recent sexual abuse experience. This research indicated that the sexual offences measured by the survey were most likely to be thought of as not being crimes with 60% of survivors considering sexual violence as something that was ‘wrong but not crime’ and ‘something that just happens’.

Offenders

In the New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims 2001 almost all of the survivors said the offender was male and the majority stated that they already knew their offender(s).

This is in keeping with statistics from The National Collective of Rape Crisis for the years 1992-1996 which found that 92.6% of survivors knew the offender.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND THE LAW

Laws around sexual violence are outlined in the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961.

The New Zealand law protects everyone against sexual violation, which includes rape and unlawful sexual connection, as well as other forms of sexual abuse.

Under New Zealand Law rape is defined as the following:

Person A rapes person B if person A has sexual connection with person B, effected by the penetration of person B's genitalia by person A's penis,—

  1. without person B's consent to the connection; and
  2. without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.

Under New Zealand law rape is gender specific as it involves a penis and a vagina, although it also includes people who have surgically altered their genitals.

Unlawful sexual connection:

Person A has unlawful sexual connection with person B if person A has sexual connection with person B—

  1. without person B's consent to the connection; and
  2. without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.

Unlawful sexual connection covers all sexual contact that occurs without consent and is non gender specific. That is, it allows for non-consensual sexual contact between male to female, male to male, female to male and female to female individuals. Unlawful sexual connection includes the penetration of one person by another person by genitals, fingers or objects. Unlawful sexual connection also includes oral sex given or received without consent.

For a full definition please follow this link Crimes Act 1961, Section 128

Consent

The New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 also outlines circumstances where allowing sexual activity does not amount to consent to sexual activity. These circumstances are as follows:

A person does not consent to sexual activity just because they do not protest or offer physical resistance to the activity.

A person does not consent to sexual activity if they allow the activity because of—

  1. (a)force applied to them or some other person; or
  2. (b)the threat (express or implied) of the application of force to them or some other person; or
  3. (c)the fear of the application of force to them or some other person.

If the activity occurs while a person is asleep or unconscious

If the activity occurs while a person is so affected by alcohol or some other drug that they cannot consent or refuse to consent to the activity.

A person does not consent to sexual activity if the activity occurs while they are affected by an intellectual, mental, or physical condition or impairment which means that they cannot consent or refuse to consent to the activity.

One person does not consent to sexual activity with another person if that person allows the sexual activity because they mistaken about who the other person is.

A person does not consent to an act of sexual activity if that person allows the act because he or she is mistaken about its nature and quality. For example, consenting to protected sex and receiving unprotected sex

Sex within marriage

New Zealand law states that one person may be convicted of the sexual violation of another person at a time when they were married to each other.

Sexual violation of children and young people

There are also specific laws around the sexual violation of children and young people. This includes laws against sexual conduct with a child under 12 and sexual conduct with a young person under 16. The maximum sentences for these crimes are 14 years and 10 years respectively.

Sentencing for Sexual violation

Everyone who commits sexual violation is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 20 years.

A person convicted of sexual violation must be sentenced to imprisonment unless the court thinks that the person should not be sentenced to imprisonment due to the particular circumstances of the person convicted and the particular circumstances of the offence.

For more information follow this link New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 Section Seven

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