Survey: 1 in 3 young people have faced sexual violence; few seek or receive help


A new survey indicates that sexual violence – from verbal and cyber-harassment to non- consensual touching and rape – is a significant part of young people’s social environment. However, few know how to seek help for themselves, or to provide it to their peers.

The study was carried out in 2014 by Change Makers volunteering with the We Can! campaign. They surveyed 500 respondents aged 17 to 25, who were mostly (59%) junior college students. Slightly over half (55%) of the respondents were female.

Perpetrators, victims and bystanders

Respondents were asked about their experiences of specific acts that constitute sexual violence. These included, for example, physical intimacy with someone who seemed unwilling; physical intimacy with someone who was too drunk to know what was going on; taking sexual photographs without consent; or making unwanted sexual advances or remarks.

For the purposes of this description, ‘sexual assault’ includes kissing, intimate touching or penetration without consent, and ‘sexual harassment’ includes all other acts of sexual violence included in the survey.

Key findings include:

  • Victims/survivors: More than 1 in 3 respondents (35%) reported experiencing sexual violence. 1 in 6 (16%) reported experiences of sexual assault and more than 1 in 4 (29%) reported experiences of sexual harassment.1 The most commonly reported experiences were receiving unwanted pornographic material and receiving unwanted sexual advances or remarks. For about 8 in 10 of all victims (83%), the perpetrator was someone they knew (significant other, family member, friend, classmate or acquaintance). For almost 9 in 10 victims of sexual assault (87%), the perpetrator was someone they knew.
  • Perpetrators: More than 1 in 5 respondents (22%) reported having perpetrated sexual violence. About half of those (11%) reported that they had perpetrated sexual assault.
  • Bystanders: Almost half of all respondents (47%) knew a victim of sexual violence. More than 1 in 3 (37%) knew someone who had been sexually assaulted while 1 in 3 (33%) knew someone who had been sexually harassed.2 4 in 10 respondents (41%) knew someone who had perpetrated sexual violence.

“It’s clear that sexual violence is relevant to many young people’s lives,” said Kokila Annamalai, We Can! campaign manager. “We urgently need to develop a culture of respect and healthy communication around sex.”

A culture which respects consent?

Respondents were asked about their attitudes towards the importance of seeking consent for physical intimacy in a range of social and relationship contexts. Key findings include:

  • 40% did not consider it important to seek consent in marriage.
  • 24% did not consider it important to seek consent in a dating relationship.
  • 31% did not consider it important to seek consent in casual hook-ups.
  • 38% did not consider it important to seek consent if they had been physically intimate with the same person before.

“These findings are troubling,” said Kokila Annamalai, We Can! campaign manager. “They tell us that much more needs to be done to build a culture that respects personal boundaries. Consent should never be seen as optional.”

Future directions for support and assistance

The survey addresses the question of help for victims of sexual violence. Key findings include:

  • When asked who they told about their experiences, the most frequent response from victims was that they had told no one or had told a friend. Some of the most frequent responses that victims received when they told someone were (a) that they should ignore it (b) the other party laughed.
  • Only 6% of all victims said they sought help (turning to family/friends, school counsellor, therapist, etc).
  • Some reasons cited by victims of sexual assault for not seeking help included embarrassment, shame, family shame, disbelief and self-blame.
  • Only 1 in 8 respondents who knew a victim said they offered help. A common theme that emerged was to offer their own advice, e.g. ask them to stand up for themselves, ignore it, avoid the person, be more careful in the future.
  • When respondents were asked the type of help they would prefer if they or someone they knew experienced sexual violence, the most frequent responses indicated a demand for formal support (counselling, legal counselling, assistance from the police and a helpline).

“These results make it clear that services for sexual assault victims, like those offered at the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), are very much needed,” says Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager at AWARE, which runs SACC, Singapore’s only specialist service for sexual assault victims. “But more has to be done to raise awareness among potential users that these services exist – that they can have assistance in dealing with their experiences.”

“The survey confirms that whether victims of sexual assault seek the help they need is strongly influenced by people around them,” says Kokila Annamalai, We Can! campaign manager. “All of us need to develop a better understanding of sexual assault, to become more supportive peers and family members when those around us need it.”

Roundtable event

The We Can! campaign will be holding a Roundtable at AWARE on 1 April 2015 to present the survey findings and explore the questions that it raises in greater detail.

Date: 1 April, Wednesday
Time: 7.30 – 9.30pm
Venue: AWARE Centre, 5 Dover Crescent #01-22, Singapore 130005

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