Sexual abuse is one of the key social problems undermining the health and well-being of our population today. It has a wide prevalence and can have a high impact.

The Ministry of Justice recently estimated that more than one in five (23%) New Zealand adults experience sexual assault in their lifetime.1

The Ministry of Justice reported that almost one in three Māori adults (30%) experienced sexual assault during their lifetime.2 Research has indicated that Māori girls may be twice as likely to experience child sexual abuse than non-Māori girls.3

Results from the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence Survey found that more than one in four females (26%) and one in nine (11%) males reported experiencing sexual abuse before age 15.4

More than one in five female and one in eleven male secondary school students reported that they had ever been touched in a sexual way or been made to do unwanted sexual things. 84% of students reported that they had been victimised by a known peer.5

The Thursdays in Black (2017) Students’ Survey suggested that 83% of university students experienced sexual harassment during their tertiary studies, with more than half (53%) experiencing some forms of sexual assault.6

People with diverse sexualities were more than five times as likely as heterosexual peoples to have been a victim of sexual assault in the previous 12 months (2019/2020). About one in eleven people with diverse sexualities (9.2%) were victimised, compared with one in 60 heterosexual people (1.7%).7

In the Counting Ourselves survey, almost one in three (32%) of transgender and non-binary people had experienced sexual violence. Almost half of the participants (47%) reported that someone had tried to have sex with them against their will.8

In the Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence study, more than half of the people with disabilities had been touched in places they did not want to be touched or been pressured to be sexual in ways they did not want during otherwise consenting sexual encounters, with at least one in five people experiencing these behaviours from three or more people.9

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. 10 11 12

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. 13 14 15 16 17

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. 18

Women who engage with 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.19 Survivors who engage in therapy show significant improvement in self-rated emotional wellbeing and reduced psychological distress.20

The Ministry of Justice estimates that 92% of sexual abuse crimes are not reported to Police. 21

The Ministry of Justice suggests that if only 10% of sexual violence is reported to Police, for every 100 victimisations only three results in a perpetrator being charged, and only one results in a conviction. 22

Note: Data are used to report what was found in particular samples in particular research projects at particular times, so only tell us this information. We use these statistics as a guide to what might be happening now, but this data cannot tell us what will happen in the future.

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