Sexual violence is a terrible thing and something that, in a perfect world, no one would have to deal with. Unfortunately, as you know, we don’t live that world and a recent study reminded us all of that. This sad and scary study, found in the JAMA Pediatric reports, states that one in ten American teens and young adults have committed sexual violence. The statistics are unsettling, to say the least.
Before we go more into more detail on this study, let’s address what sexual violence actually is. A lot of people have the idea that sexual violence is only about rape – forcing someone to have sex against their will. But rape is not the only sexually violent crime out there and, in fact, sexual violence doesn’t even have to be a physical act. Sexual violence is any kind of sexual activity where consent is not freely given and it refers to any time any person feels forced or manipulated into doing something they never wanted to do in the first place.
According to OASIS (an organization called Opposing Assault with Service, Information and Shelter), sexual violence consists of rape, sexual assault, incest, sexual exploitation, unwanted or inappropriate sexual contact (this could mean something as simple as touching), sexual harassment, exposure, threats, stalking/cyberstalking and peeping. Statutory rape is also considered sexual violence, whether the person younger than the age of consent wants it to happen or not.
Make no mistake: committing any of these acts of sexual violence is absolutely a crime. As OASIS states, “It is not motivated by uncontrollable sexual desire. Perpetrators of SV use sex as a weapon to dominate and hurt others.”
One of the scariest things about sexual violence is that a lot of people who have experienced it are too afraid to tell others what happened to them. Victims often feel ashamed, as if they did something wrong, when in fact they have absolutely nothing to feel ashamed about. Victims might feel embarrassed or scared to tell people because they don’t want to be accused of lying, which is why it’s so important to always take these claims very seriously. In some cases, victims don’t speak up as a way of dealing with their assault – they don’t want to think about it, so they try to act like it never happened.
This new study sheds some light on how sexual violence affects teens and the results are pretty terrifying. 1, 058 teens and young adults ages 14 to 21 participated in the study and, as I stated before, it was discovered that one in ten young Americans have committed an act of sexual violence. To break it down further, eight percent of those studied said they had kissed, touched or “made someone else do something sexual” when they “knew the person did not want to.” Three percent verbally coerced someone into having sex, three percent tried to use physical violence to force someone into having sex and two percent committed completed rape.
As Slate pointed out, we’ve known for a really long time that sexual violence is a problem with teens and young adults. I think anyone who watches the news or reads the newspapers can figure that out for themselves. So while these results aren’t exactly shocking, that doesn’t make them any less devastating.
I think the scariest part of this study is that in every case of sexual violence, the perpetrator is someone the victim knew. It sometimes almost seems less alarming to think of a perpetrator as someone you don’t know, a random stranger. It’s much more scary to think of a perpetrator as someone you went to school with (which was the case 52 percent of the time) or someone you met online (two percent of the cases). And it’s even worse to think of that perpetrator as someone you thought you could trust, like a boyfriend or girlfriend – which made up three out of four perpetrators.
What else did they find out about those committing acts of sexual violence? For one thing, most of the perpetrators were 16-years-old when they committed their first act of sexual violence. Unsurprisingly, boys were more like to be the perpetrators, but that doesn’t mean girls weren’t also. It was also found that, in most cases, the perpetrator was white from a higher-income family.
The tactics used to commit these acts are, unsurprisingly, alarming. 63 percent of perpetrators guilted their victims into it, 32 percent argued or pressured the victim into it, 15 percent used alcohol as a weapon, eight percent used physical force and five percent threatened to use physical force. As for the victims? 80 percent were female, 18 percent were male and five percent were transgender.
The study also found a correlation between pornography use and sexual violence: the teens who watched porn were more likely to commit sexually violent acts, but those more likely to be offenders were those who watched violent porn that “depicted one person hurting another person while doing something sexual.”
And what ever happened to the teens and young adults who admitted to committing these sexually violent acts? In most cases, nothing. 66 percent of the time, “no one found out” about what had happened. Possibly even more disturbing than that statistic is that 29 percent of of perpetrators were caught but not punished. Eleven percent “got in trouble with their parents,” which doesn’t sound like nearly enough of a punishment and only two percent (one perpetrator found by the study) were arrested. And for statistics that might make you feel sick, seven percent of offenders said they felt “not at all responsible” for what they had done, 48 percent felt “somewhat” responsible and 50 percent felt that their victim was “completely” responsible. Only 35 percent said they felt “completely” responsible.
Reading these facts makes me feel miserable, confused and angry, to put it simply. If any of this ever happens to you, I urge you to report the issue and talk to someone about it. Keeping these things bottled up can never do any good – just look at the recent discussion about Chris Brown’s statutory rape case. Being a victim of sexual violence is never your fault or something you should feel ashamed of. It is not okay that over 60 percent of perpetrators never had to deal with the consequences of what they did (besides psychologically, of course).
A lot of people assume that if nothing physically violent happened, it wasn’t sexual violence – which is probably why so many of these perpetrators studied felt that they weren’t responsible for what they did. This assumption needs to stop. Just because physical force wasn’t used doesn’t mean you aren’t a victim of sexual violence. This study is proof of that.
What do you think of the results of this study? Are you surprised? Have you ever been or known anyone who was a victim of sexual violence? Have you ever known someone who committed sexual violence? Tell us in the comments.