Today saw the publication of the new edition of the Lancet journal, which is largely devoted to Britain’s largest survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyle: Natsal
Much media attention was devoted to the findings on rape and sexual coercion, or as the researchers call it, non-volitional sex.
To the best of my knowledge, it is the first time a UK-based survey of this size has asked men and women the exact same question in the same context about their experience of non-consensual sex. After looking at many studies from around the world which have found surprisingly high response rates among men when questioned on the issue, it is worth noting that this survey is more in line with expectations. Here’s the full description from the methodology:
“We asked women and men about their experience of sex against their will since the age of 13 years, in the computer-assisted self-interview section of the questionnaire, in which heterosexual sex was defined as including “vaginal, oral, or anal” and same-sex sex as including “oral (or, for men only, anal) sex or any other contact involving the genital area”. Only participants who reported having had heterosexual intercourse or sex with someone of the same sex since 13 years of age were routed to these questions. The first question was worded “Has anyone tried to make you have sex with them, against your will?” Participants who responded “yes” were defined as having experienced “attempted non-volitional sex”, and were then asked “Has anyone actually made you have sex with them, against your will?”, which was used to define the experience of “completed non-volitional sex”.
the results were that 9.8% of women and 1.4% of men reported having been the victim of non-volitional sex. For easy comparison, that would mean that for every eight rapes, seven were of women and one was of a man.
Some points to note. First, the wording of the question used on this survey is stronger than in many of the studies I wrote about in the previous blog. There is little doubt that it describes rape, rather than what we might call ‘reluctant sex’ or gentle coercion. This might explain why the gender difference is wider than in some other surveys.
On the other hand, I continue to wonder if many male victims of female sexual aggression simply don’t think their experience counts when they are asked about this. I do wonder whether the response rate might have been a bit higher if the question had specified “has anyone, male or female, actually made you have sex with them, against your will?”
I’d be interested in your thoughts.
The other detail in the report which caught my attention, which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, was that among both male and female victims the median age for the last incidence (of non-volitional sex) was at a very early age – 16 for men, 18 for women. For men, there was no difference in this between different age cohorts, but for women, the youngest group (16-24) and the oldest group (65-74) had significantly lower incidence rates than other groups.
This would, I think, appear to shadow an effect that we have noted in the US before, but I’ve yet to see confirmed in the UK – which is that there was a large rise in the rate of rape of young women over the 1970s to the 1990s which has since gone into decline, which would, of course, be welcome news. It also highlights why estimates of lifetime risks of a crime like rape – the incidence of which is not evenly spread over a lifetime - are fundamentally flawed. Claims like “1 in 5 women will be raped” “1 in 10 women will be raped” or any such calculation are fundamentally flawed. (Same goes for men, of course.)
I’m still going through other sections of the report, and shall update you if I find anything interesting.