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New RCNI Child Sexual Violence report findings call for new responses in Child Protection

Minister Frances Fitzgerald today launched a RCNI ground breaking report ‘Hearing Child Survivors of Sexual Violence: Towards a National Response’. This report provides new data which can reduce child sexual violence crimes and protect vulnerable children more effectively.  It provides a better understanding of risk and vulnerability to sexual violence, confirming that sexual crimes differ in substantive ways across the age and gender of the child. RCNI today calls on Minister for Children to ensure the future funding for this essential data collection of sexual violence against children in Ireland.

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Fiona Neary, RCNI Director said, ‘This report provides Ireland with the necessary data to deliver child protection more robustly – it is critical for children in Ireland that we continue to collect this high quality data on sexual violence crimes. It is a wide-ranging report with many findings and many recommendations. Both age and gender of the victim have been underestimated as factors in terms of the extent to which crimes of sexual violence differ. Age and gender have significant impacts in terms of:

  • Likely duration and severity of abuse
  • Relationship to the perpetrator
  • Involvement of a child perpetrator

This is the first time this data has been collected across 16 frontline services – Rape Crisis Centres and CARI. It is invaluable and can greatly assist in knowing where and how to target our interventions and responses to the best effect.

For example, teaching children ‘stranger danger’ is not sufficient, child protection measures must address the fact that most children are abused by someone in the family and someone they know. Messaging for children over the age of 12 requires a very different content to younger children, as the nature of abuse will be significantly different.’

Nature of abuse and relationship to Perpetrator

This report spells out that a child under 13 is most likely to be targeted for abuse by a family member rather than an acquaintance. The exact opposite is true for a teenage girl. We know that a child under 13 experiencing abuse is likely to be victimised for years, whereas a teenage girl is more likely to experience a one off incident that lasts for a number of hours.  Girls’ vulnerability to rape increases as she ages. Girls over 13 who attended RCCs in 2012 were most commonly subjected to rape and in the majority of cases, rape by their peers or those only slightly older. When assaulted, the girl child is more likely than a boy to be raped.  All of these differences impact on the child’s ability to disclose, to seek help and to access support. We need to understand these different phases of vulnerability to shape an effective Child Protection response that protects all children.

The Child Perpetrator

The rate of sexual abuse by children is also underestimated. 37% of all perpetrators of child sexual violence are children, 97% of those are males. This points to an urgent need to challenge culture and norms of gender and sexual inequality and in particular to focus our attention on boys. The WHO recommends we target age appropriate education and messages about consent and refusal, equitable sexual relationships and sexual communication to children of all ages (WHO/BZgA, 2013). Ireland’s formal education responses to sexual violence are optional and do not follow the 0 to 18 model of best practice.

Fiona Neary went on to say, ‘We do our boys and young men a grave disservice if we do not talk to them about consent, sexual activity and sexually harmful behaviours in a sustained and structured way at every opportunity afforded to the state and society. If we do not support, challenge and educate the boy child, we fail both the boy and the girl child. This is a much more valuable focus that teaching ‘stay-safe’ lists for girls, which are often impossible to achieve and can result in victim blaming attitudes.

‘What this new evidence shows is an urgent need for us to continue to deepen our understanding of sexual violence against children in order to prevent such violence and to increase access to disclosure, support and justice for those who have been victimised.’

Some findings and statistics from ‘Hearing child survivors of sexual violence: Towards a national response’

Common patterns of abuse

  • Children under age 13 are most vulnerable to sexual assault, perpetrated over many years by a male family member in the survivor’s home/abusers home.
  • Children aged 13 onwards are most vulnerable to rape perpetrated by a male non-family member (usually friends/acquaintances/neighbours) over a number of hours in an outdoor locations or other location outside the home.

Key statistics

  • 75% of child survivors, both girls and boys, aged 13-17 were subjected to rape.
  • 60% of female child survivors were subjected to rape compared to 30% of male child survivors.
  • 70% of children under the age of 5 were subjected to sexual assault.
  • 73% of girls aged 13-17 were abused in an outdoor location or location other than their own home or the perpetrators home.
  • 85% of incidents of sexual violence perpetrated against girls aged 13-17 lasted hours.
  • 59% of child survivors disclosed experiencing additional forms of violence along with the sexual violence.

Adult perpetrators of sexual violence against child survivors

  • The average age of perpetrators was 26, 98% were male.
  • 31% of incidents of abuse against child survivors were perpetrated by family members.
  • 39% of incidents of abuse against child survivors were perpetrated by friends/acquaintances/neighbours.

Child perpetrators of sexual violence against child survivors

  • 37% of perpetrators of sexual violence against child survivors were under age 18.
  • 97% of child perpetrators were male.
  • Child perpetrators were most likely to be friends/acquaintances/neighbours of the survivor (56%).
  • Family members accounted for 24% of child perpetrators of sexual violence against children.
  • Child perpetrators abused those of similar age or younger who were usually non-family members.

Disclosure and reporting

  • Child survivors mostly disclosed the sexual violence to their parents first (75%).
  • 82% of sexual incidents disclosed by child survivors were reported to a formal authority by the survivor themselves or their guardian.

Notes:

This specialist report, providing a detailed examination of child sexual abuse, with data that has never been available in Ireland heretofore, is the result of a dynamic collaboration between RCNI, 13 Rape Crisis Centres and Children at Risk Ireland (CARI) using the RCNI national sexual violence frontline data collection system. This collaboration, and the RCNI data collection system, places Ireland at the forefront of combating crimes of sexual violence, as it delivers exceptional analysis of the perpetrators including how and where children of different ages and genders are targeted.

report-thumb-hearing-child-2013Download the report here (PDF 6.6Mb)

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For more information please contact Anne-Marie Flynn on 087 9848459

Column: Why is only sexual abuse involving physical violence deemed ‘real’?

Former newspaper tycoon Eddy Shah’s has claimed some underage girls are to blame for their own sexual abuse, highlighting the persistence of the ‘she was asking for it’ narrative, writes Clíona Saidléar.

CHILDREN WILL BE children, especially teenagers it seems, and what is an older, powerful man to do if they will throw themselves at him? This was the plea made by Mr Eddy Shah this weekend when he described the ongoing UK investigations of certain men’s sexual activity with underage children, largely girls, as ‘easy policing’, ‘easy prosecutions’ and a ‘witch hunt’.

What he clearly expressed was the understanding that sexual violence committed by coercion, deceit and manipulation was largely a victim’s own fault, and this standard to even apply when the victim was a child. In contrast sexual violence that is committed with physical violence is deemed ‘real’. Yet the majority of sexual violence involves power and coercion and little if any physical violence.

Mr Shah, who was recently cleared of raping a girl between the age of 12 and 15, came out with a set of statements about powerful men (of whom he is one) and celebrities engaging in sexual activity with underage girls. He asked us to have sympathy for those men, whom he does not deny had sex with minors, who are now being investigated by the police, and rather to direct our ire at the girls and boys involved whom he claims have largely only themselves to blame.

Do the laws of decency not apply to powerful men?

The particular case Mr Shah is making is that the law and common understandings of decency should not apply in the same way to men who were and are famous and powerful. After all a 40 year old man having sex with a 12-year-old is altogether different from a 40 year old famous rockstar bestowing on a 12-year-old the privilege of his sexual attention. While the first are clearly criminal child abusers, the later are not to be held responsible as the children in question most likely threw themselves at the rockstars is the argument being made.

Mr Shah goes on to describe a child’s vulnerability, compounded by the vastly disproportionate power of the older celebrity, as mitigation for abusing that child. Exposed in this argument is an overriding sense of entitlement that sweeps away legal and common sense understandings of child abuse and responsibility. Put simply, positions of power, particularly fame, come with entitlements. Those entitlements include sex, with whomever, and the younger the better.

A sense of entitlement underlies most sexual crimes

As Mr Shah rightly points out children have always wanted to ‘appear adult and do adult things’. Does a person’s – and in particular a child’s –desire to get close to power and fame ever justify abusing and/or taking advantage of that vulnerability? If you take advantage of a grown woman in those circumstances you, at the very least, deserve to be called out as a cad. If you do it to a child you are a child abuser. No ifs, buts or maybes.

The perpetrators’ utopia that Mr Shah describes, with its stark and extreme sense of entitlement, exists in a privileged world of powerful abusers. Yet we should not forget that a sense of entitlement underlies most crimes of sexual violence. Most abusers take what is not given freely because they convince themselves they deserve, have earned or are in some way are entitled, to that other person’s body.

The challenge for us is to take the lesson from this exposure of a culture of entitlement and see how that culture plays out in everyday responses to sexual pressure, coercion and crimes.

This column was published on theJournal.ie on August 8th, 2013. You can read the original here.