Sexual coercion is becoming normalised, warns researcher, urging early intervention at schools to curb stereotypes
One in 10 women in Britain admit they have been forced into having sex against their will, the most comprehensive survey of Britons’ sexual behaviour for decade reveals today, prompting a warning from researchers that sexual coercion may have become “normalised”.
The findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) survey, which questioned 15,000 people aged 16 to 74, also show that the proportion of women saying they have been victims of sexual coercion is more than double that of those who say they have been victims of rape.
Wendy Macdowall, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the lead Natsal author, said that schools needed to address sexual coercion, which had become “normalised … with rape at the extreme end of the spectrum”.
Those surveyed were asked “whether anyone has ever actually made them have sex against their will” and 9.8% of women said they had, at an average age of 18. For men the equivalent figure was 1.4%, according to the research, which is published in the Lancet today.
Macdowall said that there was a need for early intervention in schools to help address the problem “before those gender stereotypes are developing” and because “somebody who has been victimised at a young age is much more likely to be victimised later”.
The Natsal proportion is significantly higher than that in the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales, which was based on interviews with people aged 16 to 59 and found that 3.8% of women had been the victim of a rape since the age of 16. But the definition of rape is narrower, requiring the perpetrator to “not reasonably believe” that the victim consents.
Macdowall said the discrepancy was because people did not always realise that a crime had been committed: “We know that people who have experienced what would meet the legal definition of rape do not describe it as such. We’ve always known police reports are the tip of the iceberg and there’s always been the suspicion the crime survey figures are low.”
In 15% of cases among women and men recorded by Natsal, the perpetrator was a stranger, suggesting that coercion is at the heart of much abuse. Among female victims who were aged 13 to 15 when the event occurred, a family member or friend was responsible in nearly half of cases (45.2%), while for women aged 25 and over, a former or current partner was responsible in seven out of every 10 cases.