April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the SAAM campaign is all about raising awareness about sexual violence, and promoting tool and ideas to encourage healthy sexuality.
Violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women, continue to be major public health issues, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported as recently as October 2013 that 34 percent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
That number, of course, only takes into account assaults that are actually reported. RAINN estimates that out of every 100 rapes (in the USA alone), only 40 will be reported to police. A 2007 report (Without Consent) estimates that as many as 75 and 95 percent of sexual assaults are never reported.
Sadly, sexual assault is vastly under-reported worldwide. And continuing social attitudes and stigma towards sexual assault, and even legislation, make the reporting of rape and sexual assault extremely difficult for victims.
In some jurisdictions, anything other than male-female sexual assault is not counted in statistics (yes, women can assault men, men can assault men, and women can assault women)
The attitudes of police in some countries often discourages victims from reporting rape and sexual assault. A study in Turkey found that 66% of police officers interviewed agreed that the physical appearance and behaviors of women tempt men to rape.
In many countries, rape is rarely reported due to the extreme social stigma cast on victims, the fear of being disowned by their families, and even the very real threat of honor killings.
In countries where premarital sex and/or adultery are illegal, victims of sexual assault can themselves face prosecution.
Marital sexual assault and rape are not considered illegal in some countries.
This year in Australia, as at March 30th 2015, 25 women have lost their lives to intimate partner violence, or domestic violence.
Sexual assault, sexual violence and rape are not just acts perpetrated overseas. According to Centres Against Sexual Assault, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15, and 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 16.
The Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault estimates that only 1 in 6 Australian women who are attacked report it to authorities. In a 2013 interview with The Age, Head of the Centre Against Sexual Assault's south-eastern branch, Carolyn Worth, said:
"Some people don't report because they don't think they'll be taken seriously… Others are embarrassed or blame themselves."
Nationwide research has pointed to a key number of reasons women don’t report sexual assault to police in Australia, including:
- Lack of faith in police and the justice system
- Fear they won’t be believed
- Fear of coping with medical and legal procedures
- Fear of reprisals
- They don’t want friends and family to know
- Humiliation and shame
- Prevalent social attitudes that blame the victim for sexual assault
One of the keys to addressing and ending sexual assault is to acknowledge its existence. To raise awareness of the fact that it continues to affect people worldwide – including our very own communities. It can be tempting with any social issue to consider it to be other to ourselves, and removed from our own contexts, but this simply isn’t the case. Sexual assault, sexual violence, rape and intimate partner violence can occur within any community, and its perpetrators don’t discriminate against ethnicity, age, or socioeconomic standing.
Creating open discussions, raising awareness and focusing on education are the only ways that we can stop the cycle. This week, and for the month of April, we’ll be posting a range of articles and resources dealing with sexual assault and violence.
For more information on help and support within Australia, please see our recent post Sexual Assault Resources Australia.
If you are in immediate danger of sexual assault or feel threatened or unsafe, please call emergency services on 000.