One in 10 South African boys and almost 15% of girls have experienced sexual violence before the age of 17.
Children are exposed to violence in the home and at school‚ mostly at the hands of adults but also as victims of other children‚ according to findings reported in The Lancet Global Health.
Of those who reported sexual abuse to researchers‚ led by University of Cape Town psychologist Dr Catherine Ward‚ 12% reported being injured in the incident.
Girls reported more direct contact abuse than boys‚ and researchers found this included abuse by a known adult‚ an attempt to force them into sexual intercourse‚ other non-consensual acts‚ or emotional abuse.
By contrast‚ boys reported the most prevalent form of abuse was exposure abuse‚ such as exposure to pornography.
After gathering evidence from children in 5‚631 households‚ the researchers found that physical abuse‚ emotional abuse‚ neglect and family violence were all associated with sexual victimisation.
Children were more likely to disclose abuse when they were interviewed at school rather than at home. For example‚ when asked in a face-to-face interview in the home whether anyone had attempted to force them to have sexual intercourse‚ only 1.1% of boys and 3.5% of girls said yes. When they answered a written questionnaire‚ these figures went up to 4.7% of boys and 9% of girls. When questionnaires were completed at school‚ 9.1% of boys and 14.5% of girls said yes to the same question.
An editorial in The Lancet Global Health said Ward and her colleagues had proved the value of allowing children to report violence anonymously.
“Designing effective prevention programmes requires a nuanced understanding of the patterns of exposure to violence by age‚ sex‚ and‚ importantly‚ by perpetrator‚” write Karen Devries and Franziska Meinck.
“Furthermore‚ an understanding of the risk and protective factors for these different forms of abuse is needed.”
The report found that victims of sexual violence were also likely to have experienced other forms of violence — most commonly direct victimisation through crime‚ followed by witnessing violent crime‚ exposure to family violence and physical violence.
Children who had been sexually abused were more likely to participate in high-risk sexual behaviour and substance abuse‚ and the researchers suggested this might also have a part to play in the HIV epidemic.
The research was funded by the UBS Optimus Foundation‚ which aims to improve the lives of children worldwide. Similar work in Switzerland and China is part of an international effort to understand the extent of violence children face.
In the South African study‚ the researchers reported that they had passed on information about child maltreatment they had come across to child and care protection agencies.
Source: TMG Digital.