Harmful sexual behaviour is a term that describes sexual activity that one (or more) of the people involved does not or cannot give consent. Other terms used include sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual harm and concerning sexual behaviour.
Harmful Sexual Behaviour Against Children
Under New Zealand law anyone under the age of 16 is not considered old enough to give consent to sexual activity even if the child or young person agrees to the activity.
As well as harmful sexual behaviour against children within a family, people with family relationships of parent-child, siblings, half-siblings, grandparent-grandchild are not allowed to engage in sexual activity, even if over 16 and they give consent.
A family member over the age of 18 is not allowed to have sexual contact with a dependant familymember which is anyone under the age of 18 where the person over 18 where the person has power or authority over them and responsibility for their upbringing.
Harmful Sexual Behaviour Against Adults
New Zealand law states that indecent assault is a crime, and that sexual activity is a crime - either sexual violation or attempted sexual violation - if the person initiating the sexual activity either does not have the consent of the other people or does not believe on reasonable ground that they had the consent of the other person.
In New Zealand this applies to people who are married to each other as well as to people who are not married. Allowing sexual activity does not count as consent in certain circumstances:
Force, threat or fear of force or threat was used to get them to allow the sexual activity
The person was asleep or unconscious
The person was affected by drugs or alcohol to the extent they could not either give or not give consent
It is difficult to know what the extent of harmful sexual behaviour is in any country as most people don’t report it.
It is estimated that only 9% of sexual assault incidences are ever reported to the police. Only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported and only 3 of those get to court. Only one of those is likely to get a conviction.
However, there are studies that can help us understand the extent of the problem:
In 1996 the Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS) longitudinal study asked participants whether they had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16. They found that 10.4% of the 1019 young people said they had. This was 17.3% of the young women and 2.5% of the young men
The Youth 2000 Survey found that 26% of female students, and 14% of male students, reported unwanted sexual contact, either being touched sexually or made to do sexual things that they did not want to. Only 39.9% of young people who had experienced sexual abuse had disclosed the experience to someone else. 13.1% of students stated they had received unwanted sexual messages, most commonly by mobile phone (52.0%), the internet (43.9%) or letters or notes (4.1%)
Australian 2002 research showed that that 1 in 6-10 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16, mostly when they are adolescent or pre-adolescent
The 2006 Crime and Safety Survey found that approximately 29 percent of women and 9 percent of men experience unwanted and distressing sexual contact over their lifetime. Sexual offences were the fifth most common offence disclosed in the survey
In 2007 research by Janet Fanslow and others, was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand to understand the prevalence of child sexual abuse amongst New Zealand women. Results showed that 23.5% of women from an urban area and 28.2% of women from a rural area reported sexual abuse as a child. Māori women more frequently reported experiences of child sexual abuse than women from European and other ethnic groups (urban: 30.5% vs. 17.0% and rural: 35.1% vs. 20.7%). The median age of onset of the abuse was 9 years
The 2014 New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey provides information on a range of crimes including sexual violence. It estimated that 186,000 sexual offences were committed in the previous year 2013, which is 2.1% of the population experiencing sexual violence in that one year. People were also asked about sexual violence over their lifetime and 15% reported having experienced sexual violence at some point in their life. By gender this was 24% of women and 6% of men
Many New Zealanders Experience Harmful Sexual Behaviour More Than Once
Research by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs which found that at least 50% of girls and women who are sexually assaulted are likely to be sexually revictimised, and that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are twice as likely as non-victims to be sexually assaulted later in life.
People Who Have Engaged In Harmful Sexual Behaviour
Figures reported to New Zealand Police indicate 99% of sexual violence against adults is perpetrated by men
Janet Fanslow and others’ 2007 research found that women asked about childhood sexual abuse reported that they were abused by one person in 83% of cases. The majority of cases were perpetrated by a family member, most frequently male, with a reported average age of 30
Statistics NZ showed that in 2012 adolescents boys were responsible for at least 15% - 35% of reported sexual abuse. Over a 10 year period the NZ police recorded 3420 sexual abuse apprehensions for boys aged 10-16. While adolescent girls also engage in harmful sexual behaviour Statistics NZ estimated that 90% of the reported abuse against children by adolescents was by boys
Most adolescents who display harmful sexual behaviour do not go on to further sexually harm. An analysis of multiple studies (McCann and Lussier, 2008) showed that for general crimes the reoffending rate for adolescents was 58% (range 8% - 79%), but for sexual harm the reoffending rate was 12% (Range 2% - 30%)
However there are a group of young people, often called multi-problem violent youth who do tend to continue to harm others into adulthood. These are about 5-8% of male children and about 1% of female children. They tend to have their police contact in childhood (prior age 12). They commit a disproportionate number of youth crimes (50-60%), are responsible for the vast majority of youth violence (60-80%) and for 70% of sexual assaults by adolescents. Majority become adult convicted offenders (about 60%) for some crime – not necessarily a sexual crime.