A new Danish study identifies risk factors associated with sexual assault and finds that most women were in their late teens or early 20s and knew their attacker before the incident.
Many of the assaults were not associated with physical injury, but alcohol often played a role.
Dr. Mie-Louise Larsen, from the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault Department at the University of Copenhagen, was co-author of the study.
“Our results challenge the typical stereotype of a violent rape attack by a stranger, which is important in creating an environment where women are not reluctant to seek help after a sexual assault,” Larsen said.
“We need to raise awareness of the fact that most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the woman, often in familiar surroundings. Many victims will not sustain a physical or anogenital injury.
“In order to change the general attitudes towards sexual assault, this information should not only target young people, but also the police, health care professionals, and the general public.”
The study is published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG).
Over the last decade, professionals have recognized that many patients seen in the health care system have a history of sexual assault. The realization that sexual assault is a serious problem culminated in 2002 when the World Health Organization classified sexual violence as a major public health problem.
For the study, investigators analyzed data from all women attending Copenhagen’s specialized center for victims of sexual assault (CVSA) between March 2001 and December 2010. A total of 2541 women were included in the sample.
Results of this study showed that 66 percent of the women were aged 15-24 years old and 75 percent had met the perpetrator before the sexual assault.
Nearly 50 percent reported that the perpetrator was a current or former boyfriend, family member or someone they considered a friend. Women with no previous contact or knowledge of their perpetrator were more likely to report the incident to the police and were at a higher risk of sustaining an injury.
Looking specifically at alcohol, the study found that over 40 percent of women had consumed more than five units of alcohol. These women were more often sexually assaulted by a stranger or someone they met within 24 hours prior to the assault.
Furthermore, a physical injury was found in 53 percent of cases and 33 percent of the victims had suffered a previous sexual assault.
Patrick Chien, BJOG deputy editor-in-chief said, “Identifying risk factors for sexual assault is vital for both the prevention of assaults and the improvement of early interventions. The results of this study suggest young age and drinking alcohol were risk factors for sexual assault.
“The study provides us with further insight and explores the circumstances in which sexual assaults occur, which women are vulnerable in which settings and identifies the most important contributory factors to help with the development of measures to prevent sexual assault.”