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Young women see sexual assault as normal: US study

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

Many girls who are sexually assaulted may not see themselves as victims, according to a new US study that found most young women do not report acts of sexual violence because they regard them as "normal".

Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University, US analysed forensic interviews conducted by Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) with 100 youths between the ages of three and 17 who may have been sexually assaulted.

The findings reveal that girls and young women rarely reported incidents of abuse because they regarded sexual violence against them as normal.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 60 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, researchers said.

Hlavka found that the young women experienced forms of sexual violence in their everyday lives including: sexual harassment, objectification, and abuse. Often times they rationalised these incidents as normal.

During one interview, referring to boys at school, a 13 year-old girl states: "They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it's okay, I mean...I never think it's a big thing because they do it to everyone."

The researcher's analysis led her to identify several reasons why young women do not report sexual violence.

Girls believe the myth that men can't help it, researchers said.

They said the girls interviewed described men as unable to control their sexual desires, often framing men as the sexual aggressors and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity.

The girls perceived everyday harassment and abuse as normal male behaviour, and as something to endure, ignore, or manoeuvre around, said the researchers.

Many of the girls said that they didn't report the incident because they didn't want to make a "big deal" of their experiences.

They doubted if anything outside of forcible heterosexual intercourse counted as an offence or rape.

According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalised their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as "bad girls" who prompted the assault.

Hlavka found that girls don't support other girls when they report sexual violence.

The young women expressed fear that they would be labelled or accused of exaggeration or lying by both authority figures and their peers, decreasing their likelihood of reporting sexual abuse, researchers said.

The young women in the study provided insight into how some youth perceived their experiences of sexual violence and harassment during sexual encounters with men.

The study appears in the journal Gender & Society.

First Published: Wed, April 16 2014. 16:36 IST