Sexual abuse is one of the key social problems undermining the health and wellbeing of our population today. It has a wide prevalence and can have a high impact.
1 out of 3 girls may be sexually abused before she turns 16 years old. Most of this abuse (90%) will be done by someone she knows and 70% will involve genital contact.
1 in 7 boys may be sexually abused by adulthood.
Approximately 1 in 5 New Zealand women experience a serious sexual assault. For some women, this happens more than once.
Young people are statistically at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted; the 16 – 24 year old age group is four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group.
People who are vulnerable in some way are also a more common target for sexual abuse, especially those with physical disabilities.
More then 23% of women who participated in a recent Auckland study reported that they had been sexually abused as children. Most of the abuse was perpetrated by male family members with an estimated median age of 30 years. For 50% of the women, the abuse had occurred on multiple occasions. The study also found that victims of childhood sexual abuse are twice as likely as non victims to experience later personal violence.
Research strongly demonstrates that physical and mental health problems resulting from sexual abuse and rape can be significant. Untreated impacts of abuse in childhood can continue to impact on survivors as adults in the form of depression, anxiety, impaired interpersonal relationships, parenting difficulties, eating difficulties, and/or drug and alcohol misuse to cope with strong feelings.
The long-term effects of sexual abuse on children have been correlated with almost every known mental health disorder and most of society’s ‘social problems’ such as early teenage pregnancy, single parenting and lifetime low social economic status.
Research points to a child’s home environment as a key factor in recovery. Early intervention of specialist services can make the difference between a family that is able to develop an emotionally safe home environment that both heals and prevents future abuse, versus a family that leaves a child isolated and vulnerable in dealing with the aftermath of the abuse.
Women who seek counselling are better equipped and resourced to heal from their experiences and are less likely to suffer from more acute physical and mental health problems.
Only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported and 3 of those get to court. Sadly, only one of those is likely to get a conviction.