One in three young South Africans are sexually abused

09 June 2016 | Story by Newsroom
The recent protests on UCT campus show an all too real link between the Optimus Foundation study and the lived reality of university students.
The recent protests on UCT campus show an all too real link between the Optimus Foundation study and the lived reality of university students.

One in three young people in South Africa have experienced some form of sexual abuse during their lives. This is according to a new Optimus Foundation study, which is the first-ever nationally representative study of child maltreatment in South Africa.

The findings have shown that boys and girls are equally vulnerable to sexual abuse throughout their lifetimes. The researchers found that girls were more likely to experience contact sexual abuse than boys, who reported higher levels of no-contact sexual abuse.

The “Optimus Study: Sexual victimisation of children in South Africa” was commissioned by the UBS Optimus Foundation and conducted by researchers from the University of Cape Town. The ground-breaking report, released by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and UCT, surveyed 784 967 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17, representing more than 5 000 households nationally. A reported 351 214 of these sexual abuse cases occurred in 2015 alone.

According to the study, the youngest age at which girls first experienced sexual abuse was 14, while the mean age for boys is 15. It also found that sexual abuse is likely to occur once in a person's lifetime, but in 40 percent of cases, it occurs twice or more.

The way forward

The report recommends that South Africa should move towards developing a regulated framework for the reporting, referral and management of sexual offences for both state and non-governmental child protection service providers. A lack of such protocol means that too many children who experience sexual abuse face delays in justice. This protocol should be supported and reinforced by existing laws and regulations, as well as by the research evidence.

The study advises that good parenting can be a valuable factor in protecting a child from sexual abuse. It states that there is an association between parents knowing the whereabouts of their children and who they spend their time with and fewer cases of sexual abuse being reported.

Recommendations also include strengthening the roles of schools with regards to safety and life skills curricula that directly target sex, gender and violence.

According to the study, substance abuse programmes can play a role in preventing sexual abuse since parental substance misuse is often associated with the sexual abuse of children.

The study combined the expertise of leading researchers in the fields of crime and violence prevention, gender studies, psychology and statistical sciences to provide fresh perspectives and a wider scope of results on the subject of childhood sexual abuse in South Africa.

Photo Michael Hammond.

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