Today it was reported that more than one in ten French women have been raped at least once. This is based on a study on sexual violence by Fondation Jean Jaures think tank published on Friday 23 February using data from an online poll of 2,167 women over 18, carried out by Ifop Polling Institute between 6 and 16 February.
Twelve per cent of the women polled said they had suffered “sexual penetration with violence, constraint or surprise”, the legal definition of rape in France.
Five per cent said it had happened more than once.
Of these, 31 per cent said they were raped by their partner, 19 per cent by someone else they know and only 17 per cent by a stranger.
Half of the victims were children or teens at the time of the attack, which took place at home in 42 per cent of cases.
Only 15 per cent had filed an official complaint but many remained traumatised by the incident, as evidenced by the fact that a fifth of them had attempted suicide – four times the general rate among French women.
This is disturbing, but perhaps not surprising.
Estimations are that approximately 20 per cent of rapes are reported in Australia. We know that rape and sexual offences are significantly under-reported. This is for many reasons. Denise Lievore (2003) cited the following factors that affect decisions to report sexual assault:
Personal barriers and perceptions of the criminal justice system are the major deterrents to reporting sexual assault. Cultural myths about “real” rape may also impact on reporting decisions.
Personal factors, such as the closeness of the victim-offender relationship and the victim’s perceptions of the seriousness of the incident, are the primary reasons for non-reporting.
The level of under-reporting indicates that many women may have little confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to provide redress.
Some factors, such as fear, both deter and encourage victims to report sexual offences, contingent upon a range of countervailing circumstances.
A number of barriers, such as fear of retaliation, concerns for privacy or stigma, and mistrust of police are common to women in all social groups, but the significance of particular variables for women in minority groups is mediated by cultural and social specificities. For example:
many Aboriginal and NESB [non-English speaking background] women lack awareness of the law, legal processes and basic human rights;
in both groups, the centrality of family relationships results in a preference for community-driven approaches to dealing with offenders;
both NESB and Aboriginal women face institutional and structural barriers, such as racism and sexism. (p. 8)
Most women I know who have worked in criminal justice would think twice about reporting to police or advising others to do so. The reasons why people don’t report rape and sexual assault are supported by the reality of community attitudes. TheNational Community Attitudes Survey (NCAS) 2013conducted by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) is a unique Australia-wide study of 17,500 people designed to track how the population view issues related to violence against women. The NCAS found that many myths about sexual assault prevail. For example:
10 per cent of respondents believed that if a woman does not physically resist rape, then it is not rape.
42 per cent of respondents believed that women with disabilities are less likely to be believed when reporting sexual assault.
19 per cent believed if a woman is raped while drug or drug-affected then she bears responsibility for the rape.
16 per cent believed women say no when they mean yes.
It will be interesting to see, on the back of an open letter written by 100 French women against the #MeToo movement, how this new – and disturbing – information will be received in France by the broader public.