All over the word, violence is on the increase. Since the early 1990s, but recorded assaults and sexual assaults have both increased steadily in the past 10 years by over 40 percent and 20 percent respectively. The rate of aggravated assault appears to have contributed to the marked rise in recorded assault, and for sexual assault the rate of increase was greater for children aged less than 15 years, with increases almost double that of the older age group.
Measures of sexual violence
Data on other categories of violent crime are arguably less reliable for a number of reasons. First, some crimes are not reported to police, and violent crimes are particularly affected by a general reluctance to report. Estimates from Australian Bureau of Statistics victimisation surveys have suggested that as many as two-thirds of such crimes, especially sexual assaults against women are not reported. Of the alleged crimes that are reported, some may end up not being recorded by the police.
Victimisation surveys are another source of trend data used to interpret patterns in crime. However, self-reported victimisation data have their own inherent problems. These are largely related to issues of recall and, especially for sensitive topics such as sexual assault, an unwillingness to relate an experience of violence. With the use of appropriate methodological approaches, victimisation surveys are considered to better estimate the extent of violent crime occurring in the population, as they capture not only those people who have reported an incident of crime, but also a proportion of those who did not.
Reporting Sexual assault
The prevalence of sexual assault is also reported to be increasing. Since 1995, the rate of recorded sexual assault increased by 22 percent, from 72.5 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 88.4 in 2006. Most victims of sexual assault are female and few report the assault to police. According to Farrington, Langan and Tonry (2004), victimisation survey data from the late 1990s suggest the propensity for females to report sexual assault is increasing. An increase was also observed in the percentage of women who reported any experience of sexual assault that occurred since the age of 15 (16% in 2005 up from 9% in 1996).
These statistics while they represent a cause for concern also give us a reason to hope, because although the prevalence of sexual assault is on the increase, more and more females are reporting cases of sexual assaults.
This represents a significant paradigm shift because hitherto women would simply not report cases of assault against them for fear of stigmatization. A variety of other factors also appeared to endorse a culture of silence and denial, as many feared attitudes that would blame them for provoking an incident or feared the loss of their reputation as a result of complaining. Now though times are changing as women are becoming more aware of the guidelines, mechanisms and institutions of redress.
BY DR CHARLES IMMANUEL AKHIMIEN