Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week

Arden University healthcare lecturer, Natalie Quinn-Walker, takes a look at some common misconceptions surrounding sexual violence and abuse.

Woman with head in hands

To mark this week of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness, this year's approach is to generate discussion among the public, third sector organisations and statutory bodies, creating a clear message that sexual violence and abuse is not okay.

Here, Arden University healthcare lecturer, Natalie Quinn-Walker, talks about some common misconceptions surrounding sexual violence.

Sexual violence includes rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, as well as forced prostitution or engagement in sexual activity. The Office for National Statistics (2018) concluded that 33% of victims had been sexually assaulted or raped by an intimate partner, while the Crime Survey for England and Wales stated that an estimated 3.4 million women aged over sixteen had experienced a form of sexual assault.

Another form of sexual abuse that Domestic Shelter (2015) suggests is increasing the forbidden use of birth control, with the intent to conceive, as well as show dominance. This increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections, as the abuser prevents the use of condoms, or manipulates their partner into believing birth control is being used.

For example, Bergmann and Stockman (2015) state male abusers may remove access to oral contraceptives, by disposing of these or replacing them with alternative medications, while female abusers may falsely inform their partner that they are using contraceptives. Consequently, forcible reproduction could be deemed as the ultimate control, as it is a method of isolation which can lead to further abuse. 

Television shows such as Coronation Street and Hollyoaks have covered stories focusing on sexual abuse and sexual violence. Shows such as these can use their platform to develop a talking point on sexual abuse. UK Says No More (2019) states that mainstream TV has increased the number of reports and the number of survivors of violence seeking support, as well as the media coverage of the ‘Me Too’ movement, which itself increased awareness and reports of sexual violence.

Although there are still misconceptions regarding sexual abuse in society, shows such as these could challenge these issues and raise the profile of the topic. In society, the victim's behaviour and clothes are often discussed, as though these provoke the violent act, creating a victim-blaming culture. Sexual abuse or sexual violence is never the victim's fault, and the perpetrator of the violent act is solely to blame. Another myth is that strangers are most likely to be the culprit of sexual violence or rape; however, only 10% of rapes are committed by total strangers. 

Another misconception lies around male victims of sexual abuse or violence; the Office for National Statistics (2018) announced 115,000 men reported that they had sexually assaulted (including attempts) by their partner, with 13,000 men reporting their abuse in 2016/17. This misconception that men are unable to be a victim of such violence results in many male victims deciding not to report their abuse.

In addition to this, Hester's (2012) research suggests that men are less likely to disclose sexual abuse, out of fear of others’ reactions, and limited data is exploring forced-to-penetrate cases, further overshadowing the abuse.

Adding to this, Weare’s (2017) research of 154 male victims emphasised that 9% had frequently been forced-to-penetrate anally, 29% orally, and 62% vaginally. Furthermore, 43.8% stated they had experienced sexual abuse between the ages of 16 and 25, emphasising the high proportion of men who are victims of sexual abuse and violence.

If you require further information, advice or need support, please contact one of the following organisations:

  1. Rape Crisis: Helpline 0808 802 9999
  2. Victim Support: Helpline 0333 300 6389
  3. The Survivors Trust: 0808 801 0818
  4. Survivors UK: Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support