Sexual Abuse Victims and the CJ System Essay Topic: It has been said that sexual abuse victims are often victimized again by the Criminal Justice System. What does this mean? Explain how the reconceptualization of sexual abuse has been reflected in significant changes in the treatment of victims.
Include in the essay:
-Understands and discusses how the criminal justice system can re-victimize sexual abuse victims
-Discusses and provides at least 2 examples of laws and policies implemented to protect victims of sexual abuse
-Explains current methods used by law enforcement departments to better train officers in sexual abuse cases
Sexual Abuse Victims and the CJ System Focusing on Sexual
Defining Sexual Abuse
Per Belknap, the terms “rape,” “sexual assault,” etc., are too restrictive and do not account for sexual abuses that are not physically violent (example: although child sexual abuse is a heinous act, most times it is NOT a violent assault).
Therefore, Belknap prefers the term “sexual abuse” as this refers to ALL types of sex crimes.
According to our text, then, the definition of sexual abuse is “any forced, coerced, or exploitative sexual act or activity,”
Sexual Abuse Victims and the CJ System Consent
Consent is the key to establishing whether a sexual act is an
abuse (this is most disputed in “date rape” cases).
Consent is knowing, understanding, AND voluntarily agreeing to engage in a sexual act.
Consent and non-consent can be made both verbally or nonverbally:
?Saying yes (verbal consent)
?Saying no (verbal non-consent)
?Removing one’s own articles of clothing and embracing
advances (nonverbal consent)
?Pushing advances away (nonverbal non-consent)
Force to Coercion
Rape laws have broadened to include coercive
means of obtaining nonconsensual sex.
Force – a physical method to gain power (holding
down, hitting, etc). This is what most people
associate with sexual abuse
Coercion – the use of psychological methods to
sexually abuse a person (threats or the promise of
Historically, rape was ingrained in many cultures:
?“Rape for a rape” – this is similar to “an eye for an eye” – the father of a raped daughter was allowed to rape the rapist’s wife!
?Bride capture – a man claimed a woman by raping her
From 1770 to 1845, England (and other countries including the U.S.) defined rape
only as penetration of a vagina by the penis with ejaculation.
In the 1970’s, rape was then defined as a man forcing a woman (who was not his wife) with penile-vaginal intercourse.
But the truth is – rape and other types of sexual abuse can be committed by anyone regardless of gender, age, etc., and does not need to encompass ONLY
penile-vaginal intercourse. Also, anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse, as well.
Historical Developments cont…
With the 2nd wave of feminism in the 1970’s, 4 major legal
changes/recognitions took place:
- Most sexual abuse victims are not strangers (they know each other)
- Rape definition is not as narrow (it does not have to be defined as penile-vaginal intercourse)
- Although most sexual abuse victims are female (making it a gender related abuse), both genders can be both victims and offenders
- Sexual abuse can be forceful or coercive
Statistics on Sexual Victimization Of all the violent crimes, sexual assaults are the least likely to be reported.
Until 1973, UCR provided statistics about sexual violence.
?Bias: ONLY included crimes reported to law enforcement
Early crime surveys (National Crime Survey NCS) in 1973 did not ask
specifically about sexual victimization. The redesign in 1992 did and the
name was changed to NCVS.
?There was a bias here, too – 86% of victims did not report their
assault to the interviewer if their husband was in the room; 36%
did not report it if the interview was over the phone.
Prevalence Rates – refer to victimization at some point in someone’s life (lifetime risk)
Incidence Rates – are measured within some time period (usually the last year) prior to the interview. The NCS/NCVS
and UCR are incidence rates.
Both statistics suggest widespread sexual victimization
?According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, 18% of
women experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes, compared to 3%
of men; translates into 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men (this is a
?According to Russell (1984), 3% of women reported being raped in the
prior year. This statistic was 13 times higher than UCR stats and 7 times
higher than NCS stats (this is an incidence rate)
Variation in Sexual Violence
Why does this variation exist?
?The offense – do the stats include oral and anal assaults?
?Sampling Plan – were the stats based off of phone
interviews, in-person interviews, or written surveys?
?Question wording – how did the interviewer word their
phrases or questions? Was it clear enough?
All of these variations can cause differences in the
statistics of sexual violence!
Sex Abuse Victims & Survivors
Although anyone can be sexually abused and/or be
abusers, there are gender, race, and age patterns.
?Women/girls are at a much higher risk of sexual victimization
(especially those between the ages of 16-24)
?American Indian and Alaskan Native women are at a far
greater risk than any other racial/ethnic group
?African American women are more at risk than White women
(this is especially true of stranger rape – this could be due to
neighborhood effects). White women are more at risk of
Sex Abuse Offenders
95% of the sexual abuses were perpetrated by men/boys (according to a recent NCVS analysis)
Most abusers are NOT lacking sex – most have a good sex life with lovers, spouses, girlfriends, etc.
One way to classify sex abusers is by using the 5 antisocial schemas identified by Beech:
- Dangerous World – men with anger towards others (encompasses 79% of rapists used
in the study)
- Women as Sexual Objects – women exist to satisfy men’s sexual desires (51%)
- Male Entitlement – men are better and should be able to do what they want (44%)
- Men have uncontrollable sex drives – men can’t control their urges and should
therefore not be held accountable for rape (15%)
- Women are dangerous – hostility directed at women (9%)
Remember, many rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to police so a small amount of offenders
Rapists tend to lack empathy for victims and often feel no guilt over their offense.
Victim-Offender Relationship (VOR)
Official (and some survey) data elicit more reports of stranger rapes
?However, most survey data suggests most rape victims know their
?So why the discrepancy? It is likely that such rapes result in victim
shame, guilt, & fear of retaliation by the offender. Also, the victim may
not see what occurred as rape!
Question wording from the interviewer (or survey) makes a difference:
?When NCVS asks everyone if they have been raped (instead of just
following up if a respondent reported an attack), more non-stranger and more of the less violent rapes were reported to interviewers.
?Also using this scheme, stranger rape as a percentage of total rapes
decreased from 47% in NCS to 15% in NCVS. Intimate partner and
acquaintance rape doubled with the new form of questioning.
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)
According to Olafson, CSA is defined as “any use of a child for sexual gratification by
another person. It can be perpetrated by an adult, an older or more developmentally
advanced child, or even a child of the same age if coercion is present. This broad
definition encompasses a very wide range of experiences, from noncontact abuse
(voyeurism, exhibitionism) to contact abuse that ranges from genital fondling to
Up until the 1980’s (when it was finally labeled as social problem), CSA was thought to be rare:
?A 1987 study estimated that 40 million Americans (or 1 in 6) had been sexually
victimized as children.
Although it is highly gendered, boys are also victims:
?70%-85% of victims are female. Girls are 2.5-3 times more likely to be victims
Offenders are mostly male:
?95% of perpetrators against girls are male; 80% of perpetrators against boys are male
More than half of rapes committed are against minors
?Per the National Women’s Study – 29% of all forcible rapes
occurred when the victims were less then 11; another 32%
occurred when the victims were between 11 and 17
?Per the National Violence Against Women Survey – 22% of women
reported that their first rape occurred when they were under 12;
32% reported it occurred between 12 to 17; 29% reported it
occurred between 18 to 24; and 17% reported they were 25+
when their first rape occurred.
Large percentage of CSA is not reported
?One study found that 1/3 of these cases are not reported to anyone!
?This is likely an underestimate
Why would a child keep such a horrific secret?
- No protection
- They are afraid they made it up
- To forget
- They were blamed for it (or there is fear of getting blamed)
- Repressed it – don’t even remember it happened! (Generally, this occurs to
adults repressing traumatic childhood abuse)
It is hard to estimate the actual extent of non-reporting
Characteristics of CSA
Some of the tendencies of CSA include:
- Offenders are usually male
- Offenders are typically well known to victims
- The risk of CSA increases with age
- a) Girls are 2.5 – 3 times more at risk than boys
- Physical disabilities of children increase risk
- The absence of one more biological parents increases risk (girls
are at high risk of CSA by stepfathers)
- CSA is often a series of acts (not just a one time occurrence)
- CSA RARELY involves force
Most CSA offenders seek out children because they represent a vulnerable and
easily manipulated population.
Most CSA offenders are young
?70% under the age of 35
Many offenders have narcissistic personalities
?Believe that rules do not apply to them
Generally, offenders are:
?Well known to the victim
?The abuse is not a one time thing
?They do not use force
Date Rape is defined as forced sexual intimacy by someone with whom one has had
an romantic relationship. This does NOT include sexual abuse by a spouse.
Date rape is not a recent thing, but it wasn’t labeled as a social problem until the
There is some evidence that a woman is at greater risk of date rape the longer they
are in a relationship.
?However, date rape can occur AT ANY TIME during the courtship.
One study found that 12% of college women reported being the victim of attempted
sexual assault and 15% were the victims of completed sexual assault (while at
Prevalence levels – estimated that 62% of college women reported a sexual
victimization since leaving high school.
Historically, this was not recognized as a crime
?In 1978, only 5 states had laws against marital rape (by the 1990’s,
all states did).
Estimated that 12% of married women have experienced
What are the possible reasons?
- Husband feels entitled to have sex with his wife under any
- Husband uses rape to punish wife for something she (or
someone else) did
- Husband rapes to assert power over wife
- Victim is not a real victim
- a) Victim blaming results in reduced offender culpability (excuses
offender behavior and can actually perpetrate and sustain sexual
- Alcohol and drugs cause sexual violence
- a) Half of all rape cases involve an intoxicated offender and/or
victim (drinking co-occurs).
- b) REMEMBER! CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION!!!
- c) The abuser must still be held accountable.
Rape Myths cont…
- All rapists are sick (sexually starved or crazy).
- a) No empirical evidence to show that rapists are more
likely to suffer from mental illness.
- Rape is simply the result of miscommunication.
- a) This may occur in a small number of cases, but not the
vast majority (e.g. – many date rapists proceed to rape
despite significant communication from their victims
that they are not consenting).
Rape Myths & Violence
Studies of college students – sexually aggressive males are
more likely to endorse rape myths (particularly, blaming their
victims for their victimization).
Findings indicate that endorsement of such myths might
results in sexually aggressive behavior among men.
?Results in “rape culture/climate”
?If the girl didn’t want it, she shouldn’t have engaged in ANY sexual
behavior, but she did so she got what she deserved – Male
Rape Myths & Media
A 1996 study of the 50 top-grossing films in the U.S. found that
17% of sex scenes involved rape.
?ALL of these involve female victims – they also enhance
negative self-images and unrealistic expectations of
women’s and girl’s bodies.
Per Belknap, music videos and video games
also sexualize females.
?Example: Grand Theft Auto
Sexual harassment is thought to only happen in the workplace, but it can occur
It occurs on a continuum:
?Gender Harassment – sexist comments; putting down women, but not
necessarily sexual in nature
?Seductive Behavior – sexual advances or requests to discuss victims
?Sexual Bribery – request for sex in exchange for a reward
?Sexual Coercion – threatening punishment for not complying with sex
?Sexual Assault – physical sexual assault; this is the most severe level of sexual
Sexual Abuse & the Legal System
It has been said that rape victims are often victimized again by
There are efforts to change that:
?Better training of law enforcement officers
?“Rape Shield” Statutes – limits the defendant’s ability to
introduce victim’s past sexual behavior
Still, it is very difficult to prosecute rape cases.
?Less than 35% of arrests for rapes end in convictions – the
rest are dismissed or acquitted.
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