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Secondary students report unwanted sexual contact

Secondary students report unwanted sexual contact

Media Release - University of Auckland
10 August 2016

A nationwide survey has found that 15 percent of secondary students report unwanted sexual contact, usually by a friend.

More than half (55 percent) of the students who reported unwanted sexual contact reported that it happened when they were aged 14 years or younger.

“This level of unwanted sexual contact is unacceptably high,” says lead researcher Dr Terryann Clark from the University of Auckland’s Adolescent Health Research Group (AHRG).

The findings come from the just published University of Auckland report into ‘Sexual and reproductive health and sexual violence among New Zealand secondary school students’.

The report examined data from Youth’12, the third national health and wellbeing survey of 8500 secondary school students in New Zealand in 2012. It focuses on reporting the sexual violence experiences and the sexual and reproductive health of students in secondary schools.

Females were more than twice as likely to report unwanted sexual contact as males. Most commonly, it was a boyfriend/girlfriend or a friend who forced an unwanted sexual experience on the student.

The study found that students were over eight times more likely to report unwanted sexual contact perpetrated by someone they knew rather than a stranger.

Dr Clark says “the popular portrayal of the ‘stranger rapist’ is challenged by these findings, suggesting that unwanted sexual contact is more likely to come from someone known and trusted to the person, like a friend, family member or partner.”

Nearly three-quarters of males and just over half of the females had never told anyone about it. Those who did disclose unwanted sexual contact, most commonly told a friend.

“This is of serious concern,” says Dr Clark. “It is unacceptable that young people still fear judgements and blame - to be seen as ‘asking for it’, and a whole host of unwanted assumptions that pervade the current ‘rape culture. It is no wonder they don’t tell and get the support they need.

“The effects of unwanted sexual contact can have lasting impacts on young people, their whānau and communities,” she says. “Young people who experience unwanted sexual contact have a range of poorer outcomes compared to those who have not had such an experience,” says Dr Clark.

They more frequently reported poorer mental health, poorer sexual and reproductive health, higher rates of substance use, witnessing family and interpersonal violence, poorer family relationships, not feeling safe at school, seeing a health professional for emotional health concerns, having limited access to the healthcare that they needed (especially contraception and pregnancy care), living in overcrowded homes, and moving home more frequently.

A small proportion (three percent) of students reported forcing someone to do sexual things that they did not want to do, and males were twice as likely to report this as females.

Between 2001 and 2012, the proportion of young people who reported forcing someone to do sexual things decreased from six percent to three percent.

“Young people who reported forcing someone to do sexual things that they did not want to do, also have a range of poorer outcomes compared to those who had not,” says Dr Clark.

They more frequently reported poor family relationships, feeling less safe at school, poor sexual and reproductive health, high rates of substance use, poor mental health, and less aspiration to achieve at school. They also had difficulty accessing help for emotional health concerns and alcohol use.

“They were also more likely to report being victims of violence including experiencing unwanted sexual contact, witnessing family violence, and being in a serious physical fight within the previous year,” she says.

The report highlights a range of factors that are associated with unwanted sexual contact and makes recommendations. “We need to ensure that we have a non-blaming social context that believes and acts when children and young people tell about their experiences of unwanted sexual contact.”

Also societal and policy change is required say Dr Clark. “It’s clear from our study that keeping our young people safe and sexually healthy requires a whole person approach,” she says. “It requires safe communities and schools, quality housing, sound public health policies and supportive whānau/family.”


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