Five things you should know about the scale of sexual abuse in Britain (content note)

originally published on Everyday Victim Blaming. 17.01.14

The Mirror has published a piece today which claims to evidence the scale of sexual abuse in Britain. Whilst we support any endeavour to expose the reality of sexual violence and we acknowledge that factually the graphs are correct, the Mirror has failed to state the most important fact about the reality of sexual abuse in the UK: precisely who the perpetrators are. Every time an article is published which does not examine the identity of perpetrators, it makes it easier for perpetrators to continue.

The main fact that the Mirror missed is that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. It is men who rape women, children and other men. The vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and assault are men. This is the reality and we need to talk about this clearly without falsifying data or ignoring information which makes us uncomfortable.

We also need to deconstruct the statistics that the Mirror has posted as fact:

1. 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused.

Media coverage tends to make parents wary of “stranger danger”, but the figures, released by the NSPCC, show that over 90% of children who have experienced sexual abuse were abused by someone they knew.

This statistic is widely used by the NSPCC who actually use the term “contact sexual abuse” and who do not make it clear on their website or research paper what they define as “contact sexual abuse” and “non-contact sexual abuse”. Separating the two types of sexual abuse does not demonstrate the reality of children’s experiences. It also ignores the fact that the vast majority of victims, whether by family members, members of the community, or ‘strangers’ are girls.

Unfortunately, the number of child victims is much higher with many children never disclosing and many people fundamentally misunderstanding what the term ‘child sexual abuse’ covers.  We need to extend the definition to include children who are groomed and the reality of sexual harassment of children, including that of teenage girls by teenage boys with schools and adult men in public spaces.

We have written before of our concerns about the “stranger danger” advice and how it puts children at risk so we are glad that the Mirror has made this clear.

2. 18,916 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13. These include offences of sexual grooming, prostitution and pornography, rape and sexual assualt. They comprise 35% of all sexual crimes (53,540 in total) recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13.

The key word in this statement is “recorded”. We know that many children never disclose and many who do are simply not believed. We need to be clear when using this statistic that it does not represent the total of child victims but only those who become known to authorities (and that those authorities bother to believe the children).

3. Nearly one thousand teachers have been accused of sex with a student.

BBC Newsbeat investigation found that between 2008 and 2013 almost one thousand teachers and school staffers were been suspended, disciplined or dismissed after being accused of having sex with a student. Around one in four are facing charges over the allegations.

As the figures were obtained via an FOI to 200 councils (though only 137 responded), they don’t include teachers and staffers at private schools or academies, so the overall number is likely to be higher.

This is an important statistic to include because frequently the abuse of students in schools gets ignored. But, these teachers have not been accused of “sex with a student”. Sex requires consent. Children are not legally competent to consent to sex and this includes 16 – 18 year olds in “relationships” with adults in a position of authority. We need to be clear that this is child sexual abuse. We also need to be clear that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of sexual violence experienced by children within schools which includes everything from sexual harassment, unwanted touching, threats, posting images on social media and rape. Steubenville was not an isolated case. The sexual abuse of children within schools occurs daily and is frequently left unacknowledged or the victims blamed.

4. Over 43,000 individuals were registered as sexual offenders in England and Wales as of 31 March 2013.

The reason for the considerable increase, according to the Ministry of Justice, is that more people are being sentenced for sexual offences. The average custodial sentence length is also increasing.

Many sexual offenders are required to register for long periods of time, with some registering for life. This has a cumulative effect on the total number of offenders required to register at any one time.

Again, those who are registered as sexual offenders, and whom are almost entirely male, are just the tip. The number of actual sexual offenders within the UK is much higher as many victims do not report and those who do are not believed. The rape conviction rate in England and Wales is appalling. Between 65 000 – 95 000 people, mostly women, are estimated to be raped each year. Approximately 1 170 rapists are convicted. The vast majority of sexual offenders will never be registered.

5. Last year saw a 9% rise in sexual offences and this – at least in part – is due to Jimmy Savile

This is the largest increase since records began. A total of 55,812 sexual offences were recorded across England and Wales in the year ending June 2013.  Within this, the number of offences of rape increased by 9%. According to the ONS, there is evidence to suggest that as a consequence of the Jimmy Savile inquiry.

The rise in reported cases is not “due to Jimmy Savile”. It is a consequence of the public investigations into the allegations against Jimmy Savile, many of which were made during his lifetime and his victims ignored or labelled liars. However, whilst we can assume that the increase is due to more victims reporting their experiences, it is also possible that sexual offences are themselves increasing.

The reality of sexual violence in the UK is that it is far more common than most people believe and the media actually reports. It is almost entirely perpetrated by men against the bodies of women, children and other men. If we want to stop sexual violence, we need to start naming the perpetrators, challenging rape myths and holding the media accountable for both minimising and sensationalising sexual violence for profit. Publishing these 5 Facts does not help the women and children that the Mirror has distressed with their poor coverage of rape trials. If the Mirror truly wants to help, they need to stop publishing rape myths.

A How Not to Guide on Teaching Children Internet Safety

She said X was the closest park to her house

This is genuinely a line in a YouTube video called “The Dangers of Social Media” that claims to teach parents how easy it is for a ‘paedophile’ to groom a teenage girl: by identifying the neighbourhood she lives in to 30 million viewers.

In fact, the video reveals identifying details of three teenage girls, including street views of their homes and their parents’ faces. Rather than giving any information to help parents actually teach their children how to navigate social media safely, the video invites us to participate in the public shaming of these girls. We are allowed to watch the parents shouting at the girls but not actually engaging in why these girls arranged to meet a stranger they met online. If the aim was to highlight their lack of skills in navigating the internet, a more pertinent question was why no one bothered to teach them any. Why isn’t the focus on the parents rather than the children?

There are so many issues with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. The language itself is incorrect – the term paedophile has a specific clinical definition. The vast majority of child rapists are normal men who make a choice to harm a child; they have no pre-existing psychological condition.

The video also reinforces the ‘stranger danger’ myth. Statistically, fathers form the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence – whether this is physical, emotional and sexual abuse of the children themselves or witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers are far more likely to sexually abuse a child than a stranger. If we focus on ‘stranger danger’, we ignore the majority of men, and most child sexual abusers are male, who are actually a danger to children. This isn’t to say we pretend that strangers never harm a child; rather that we need to understand risk and help children develop the skills to keep themselves safe. Pretending that the only person who is a child rapist is a creepy man in a trench coat puts them at risk.

Rather than going for scare tactics like those in the video -having parents dress up in skeleton masks and drag their kids into a van- we need to teach children the skills to negotiate a world where a large number are at risk of experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We can start by using the appropriate words for body parts like vulva and penis.

Children also need to be taught about consent starting as toddlers. One easy way to do this is with tickling. If a child squeals no, stop and ask them if they want you to continue tickling. Then keep asking them. Another way is by telling children that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone anyone that they don’t want to. Granny might want a hug but a child shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to do so. Doing this teaches children that they have the right to bodily integrity and that their boundaries should be respected.

Children need to learn the skills to negotiate social media, including online gaming safely. Banning social media until the age of 13, as Facebook does, and then expecting children to be safe online is simply ridiculous. How are children meant to differentiate between unsafe and safe adults when their parents have 900 ‘friends’ on Facebook? If we depend on ‘stranger danger’ myths, do these 900 adults then become safe because their parents ‘know’ them? Equally, we give children mixed messages if we tell them not to talk to strangers but allow them uncontrolled access to X-Box Live. How are children meant to recognise that the older boy from down the road is a child rapist or that the really cool guy on Minecraft is a safe person if we don’t give them the tools to do so.

More importantly, shaming is not an acceptable teaching technique. Publicly shaming your child will not encourage them to have open and honest dialogue with you. It teaches children that their parents are more interested in the performance of ‘safety’ than their actual safety. It makes it impossible for children to ask for help when being bullied at school, never mind when experiencing abuse by a family member or a stranger they’ve met online.

Parents, and schools, need to take more responsibility for helping children develop the skills to negotiate social media and gaming safely, but, as Lynn Schreiber, an expert in social media, says about the video:

Scaring parents will not protect children. Blaming victims will not protect children. This video also reduces the eSafety message to one (fairly rare) danger, while ignoring the far more commonly occurring issues of children viewing violent or sexual content, cyberbullying, going viral, reputation management, and public shaming. Our children are growing up with this technology and need to be taught how to use it in a positive and sensible way.

The average age a child views porn online is between the ages of 9 – 12. Many children experience online bullying and harassment. Others live with domestic and sexual violence and abuse within the home. These conversations on personal safety, online and off, are very difficult but that is why they are necessary. We need to teach children the skills to deal with unsafe people and navigate the real world. In our global economy, the Internet is the real world.

This is what child protection should start with: teaching children their emotions are valid, that they have the right to say no, and that is completely unethical and unfair to publicly shame them on social media.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 02/8/15.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Everyday Victim Blaming on 17/8/15