Looking At The Sexual Violence In Australia Criminology Essay

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What is sexual violence? Sexual violence is a serious problem faced by the community in Western Australia ("WA") and creates an issue of great concern and debate. In order to determine its severity, this paper examines the rate of sexual assault and aims to identify the explanations and solutions to the problem.

There is no actual definition of what "sexual violence" is comprised of but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics ("ABS"), it includes sexual assault and sexual threat. Sexual abuse may also fall under the umbrella of sexual violence (SARC, 2010) [1] . Similar to sexual violence, there is no agreed definition for all of the latter terms.

Taking an offence-based approach, "assault" is defined in section 222 of the Criminal Code (WA) as an act committed by "a person who strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise applies force to another person, either directly or indirectly, without their consent, causing injury or personal comfort". Thus, sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature carried out against a person's will (ABS, 2005) and includes "any unwanted sexual act or behaviour" [2] .

Sexual threats are threats of sexual assaults which a person believed to likely be carried out (ABS, 2005). Sexual abuse "occurs when someone in authority or higher power takes advantage of the victim by involving the victim in sexual activity" [3] and is usually committed on a child [4] .

Overview of Statistics-Prevalence and Incidence

Police statistics show that out of the 301,160 offences reported in 2006, there were only 3,347 reports for sexual and related offences (Fernandez et. al, 2006). In the national comparison with other states, WA's recorded rate for sexual assault was 0.09% (86.7victims per 100,000 persons), which was lower than some of the other states (Fernandez et. al, 2006). National statistics for sexual assaults were not published thus comparison of WA's with the national's rate could not be made.

According to the ABS's Recorded Crime publication (2005), there seems to be an increasing trend. By 2003, the rate of reported sexual assault had steadily climbed to 92 reported victims per 100,000 persons from a mere 69 reported victims per 100,000 persons in 1993. However, in a later comparison of the sexual assaults recorded in 2007 and 2008, a reverse position is shown. Victimisation rates for WA had decreased from 94.5 victims per 100,000 persons to 83.1 (ABS, 2010). In 2008, there were 1,798 victims of recorded sexual assaults, which was 192 fewer than 2007. Overall, the pattern of victimisation seems to be quite indistinct.

Considering that sexual assault constitutes one of the most underreported crimes, caution should be exercised in the interpretation of reported data as it does not provide a true reflection of actual changes in the underlying rate of prevalence and incidence (ABS, 2004).Thus, the alternative measure of victimisation surveys is used to provide us with a more reliable estimate on the level of sexual assault. In absence of self-reported victimisation data for WA, further analysis will be done on national victimisation surveys instead.

The National Crime and Safety Survey ("NCSS")(ABS, 2005) estimated that 44,100 persons aged 18 years and over were victims of at least one sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey. This represented a victimisation prevalence rate of 0.3%. In the Personal Safety Survey ("PSS") (ABS, 2005), 1.6% (126,100) of women and 0.6% (46,700) of men experienced an incident of sexual violence during the 12 months before the survey.

In the analysis of the results of the national victimisation studies, it is difficult to discern a trend as level of sexual assaults varies according to different surveys due to methodology adopted. NCSS (1993, 1998) indicated a drop in sexual assault victimisation prevalence rate for females aged 18 and above, from 0.6% to 0.4% between the 2 years. Further suggestion was made in 2002 that victimisation prevalence may have stabilised as rates remained unchanged since 1998 (ABS, 2004). Bricknell (2008) believed that there was a small but not significant decline in the rates of sexual assault as observed in the Women's Safety Survey ("WSS") and the PSS series.

Thus, regardless of its equivocality, it may be appropriate to agree with overall analysis that there is indeed a decreasing trend rather than adhering to the conventional assumption of an increase in the prevalence of sexual violence.

Perpetrators and Victims

Analysis of the statistics shows that the incidence rate of sexual assault in some population groups is higher. Generally, sexual assaults can be committed by any persons but according to the PSS (ABS 2005), both men and women most often experience violence from male perpetrators.

There is a general misconception that men are less likely to be sexually victimised. Findings of sexual assault against men during the 12 months before the PSS, showed that in the total of 7,478,100 men who participated, 0.6% of men experienced sexual assault and a total of 5.5% of men reported experiencing sexual violence since the age of 15 (ABS, 2005).

However, studies do show a distinctive pattern of women being more likely to be victimised than men. The PSS confirmed that women were more vulnerable than men with a record of 19% (1,469,500) women who reported experiencing sexual violence before the age of 15 as compared to 5.5% (408,100) of men. This is further substantiated as 12% (956,600) of women admitted to being sexually abused before the age of 12 compared to a mere 4.5% (337,400) of men. Survey results from the PSS shows that 25.1% of women experienced unwanted sexual touching compared to 9.9% of men. Since the age of 15, 32.5% of women have experienced inappropriate sexual comments, compared to 11.7% of men.

In the International Violence against Women Survey 2005 ("IVAWS"), 57% of the 6,677 women surveyed had experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence over their lifetime. In the reported statistics for WA in 2006, females constituted 83.7% of the victims for sex offences reported to the police.

Sexual assault is also committed against children. During the period between 1996 and 2003, around 40% of all recorded sexual assaults are committed against children aged below 14 (Bricknell, 2008). Notably, rates for sexual assault against children were greater for females with a record of 27% compared with 19% for males (ABS, 2008).

The statistical data also shows that there are higher proportions of perpetrators and victims from the Indigenous Australian or racial-ethnic minority population. Based on Taylor and Putt's (2007) finding, sexual violence in Indigenous communities and among non-English speaking women is perceived as endemic.

In the IVAWS finding related to women's experiences in the 12 months prior to the survey, Indigenous women reported 3 times as many incidents compared with non-Indigenous women. The finding further suggested that particular groups of women such as Indigenous women, younger women and women who were not in a current relationship are at higher risks of being sexually assaulted.

Consequences of Sexual Violence

Victims of sexual violence usually feel humiliated, degraded and terrified by the experience and may be left with short and long effects, both physically and psychologically. However, each victim may feel differently, depending on its seriousness [5] (SARC, 2010).

Explanations of Sexual Violence

In determining the motivation for sexual violence, it may be appropriate to deduce from the extensive range of literature that general factors which are regarded as likely to increase risks of sexual violence includes lack of support networks, socioeconomic disadvantage, community pressure to conform to cultural traditions of male dominance, lack of knowledge about rights for victims and intellectual or physical disability (Taylor & Putt, 2007).

Psychological factors

An individual focus on the sex-offender's behaviour will show the possibility of a biological basis for the greater levels of aggression and violence in males. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) believed that aggression is related to sex hormones and the tendency of violence may also be attributed to individual psychological deficits, where effect of low intelligence could result in poorer impulse control (Heilbrun, 1982).

Sexual violence is committed upon failure of self-control .Such behaviour could be explained with reference to Quay's (1987) proposition which argued that lower verbal ability may result in difficulty of managing the complexity of self-regulation in an emotive interpersonal encounter thus further limiting the individual's ability in intellectual reasoning.

Cultural attitudes

It is recognised that most sexual violence occurs within community of lower socioeconomic status due to unemployment and poverty. Bernard (1990) suggested the possibility of poverty and marginalisation in facilitating a "culture of violence" and argued that individuals who are "truly disadvantaged" in social power relations are likely to experience frequent intense arousal increases which further leads to a generalised tendency of "angry aggression" thus providing an explanation for the high level of sexual violence.

The offender's behaviour could also be motivated by the values common within such subculture where act of sexual violence is endorsed. Sexual assaults may be seen as acceptable even though it is considered as a serious crime by the dominant culture of the society. Endorsement of sexual violence is the cause of such behaviour (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1967) thus the offender may regard their action as normal.

Alternatively, the offender may be pressured to conform to the cultural traditions of male dominance, where sexual violence is seen as a "symbolic object of masculine power, linked to fantasies of material and sexual domination and success" (Cunneen & White, 1995). Sexual violence is committed because it is considered to be an affirmation of the masculine identity and presumptive superiority over women (Goldsmith et.al, 2006).

Socialisation

Studies have shown that attitudes, values and actions appropriate to individuals within a particular culture or subculture has a correlation with the individual's behaviour (Hunter, 2006).As most perpetrators are brought up in families within a subculture where sexual violence is considered as acceptable, such behaviour could have been imitated through observation (Bandura, 1983) with a misconceived perception that it would be socially recognised within the particular community.

Although it is also arguable that the propensity for sexual violence could be attributed to the neutralisation of guilt as such behaviour is already considered as acceptable, the process of socialisation may have resulted in the learning of an alternative set of values thus there may be no need for the process of guilt neutralisation.

Rationale

Offenders are rational decision-makers and commit crimes for a purpose (Cornish & Clarke 1986, 2003; Clarke 1997). Sexual violence may be committed for purpose of fulfilling sexual gratification or excitement and generally occurs when the perpetrator deems that benefits of sexual violence outweigh its costs. The behaviour may also be attributed to the hedonistic nature of the perpetrator, where self-gratification and pleasure seeking is seen as more important than long term consequences (Shover & Honaker, 1992).

Responses to Sexual Violence

Given that sexual violence is attributed to many different factors, actions in response to the matter must be able to target the specific crime and focus on the high risks groups (Indermaur, 2010).

Crime prevention

Role of the media in promoting violence is considered while deciding the appropriate measures to adopt in reducing sexual violence. Phillip (1983) examined the impact of mass media violence on aggression and results show that exposure to violence stimulates fatal and aggressive behaviour in individuals. Similar to most studies, it affirmed the media's role in promoting violence and its effect on the inclination to act violently. Consequentially, it may be appropriate to limit the amount of violence related material displayed by the media with the belief that it will reduce the level of insensitivity towards violence.

As suggested by Indermaur (2010), reducing the availability of alcohol can also decrease the level of violence. Alcohol is seen as a facilitative tool for violence including sexual assaults thus the opportunities for alcohol consumption should be reduced to prevent violence.

Criminality prevention

Many issues discussed above concerning the motivation for sexual violence are essentially the background factors associated with the criminality. In order to prevent further exacerbation of the problem, prevention should be done at the primary level to establish conditions that minimise the probability of sexual violence.

An appropriate method would be to address the social causes of sexual violence. Acceptability of sexual violence should be eliminated by enhancing community structure and strengthening informal networks that would further encourage pro-social behaviour (Goldsmith et. al, 2006). Social crime prevention assist in reducing the risk of offending and promotes positive socialisation. Some examples of such prevention would be through community development, institutional based prevention, developmental programs and other educational campaigns. However, its success does depend on the willingness of the individuals to participate and the availability of funding.

Specifically targeted programs and education campaigns may be useful in raising the awareness of rights and community knowledge in relation to the rights of victims of sexual violence but a major problem with media publicity is that there may be difficulties in reaching the relevant disadvantaged individuals especially Indigenous Australians in regional areas and victims with language barriers, who may be unable to benefit from these programs.

Implementation of early intervention programs is also useful in addressing the risk factors for sexual violence such as impulsitivity, poor social skills and school failure. By facilitating the child's learning process and targeting on underprivileged high risk families, development of anti-social behaviour will be inhibited and children are diverted to pathways that lead to positive outcomes (National Crime Prevention, 2008). Protective factors such as school achievement, pro-social peer group and community involvement created through these programs will subsequently buffer exposure to risk and inhibit offending (Hawkins, 1999; Farrington, 2000).

Conclusion

There is no doubt that suggestions made above have already been implemented by some agencies within the State and at the national level but the effectiveness of these programs still remain to be unclear. Analysis on the trend of sexual violence indicated a small but insignificant decrease. On one hand, it does seem that the issue of sexual violence could simply be addressed through implementations of the suggestions made above but in reality, limitations do arise and results may not be as expected as there could be other hidden factors which remain to be unidentified.

(2415 words)

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