Research Brief: Early reporting of sexual violence risk in Haiti may identify victims at risk for future violence
Despite the growing availability of data on the burden of sexual violence against girls in many nations, local data to guide preventive strategies is lacking in many countries. This study uses data from the 2012 Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) in Haiti. The data were used to find out whether some information could be used to accurately identify girls at high risk of future sexual abuse. The analysis focuses on sentinel events – defined as episodes of unwanted sexual touching or attempted sex. The data were used to evaluate whether these sentinel events could predict later completed unwanted forced sex. If these events were common before incidents of forced sex, this information could be used to inform interventions and efforts to prevent the escalation of sexual violence against girls.
- Two in five girls (40%) who experienced unwanted completed sex (coerced or physically forced sex) had experienced a previous sentinel event.
- The first sentinel event occurred at about age 13.2 years among girls who experienced unwanted completed sex.
This paper focuses on sentinel events in a child’s life – defined as episodes of unwanted sexual touching or attempted (but not completed) sex – and their ability to predict later completed, unwanted sex. Sentinel events included unwanted sexual touching, or touching or fondling against a victim’s will, and unwanted attempted sex, defined as trying to make the victim have sex without permission but not succeeding. These sentinel events were used to predict two types of sexual violence: pressured sex, defined as being coerced in a non-physical manner to have unwanted sex, and forced sex, or being physically forced to have sex.
- Unwanted completed sex occurred about at about age 15.5 years.
- There was a lag of about 2.3 years before the first experience of a sentinel event and the first experience of unwanted completed sex (coerced or physically forced sex).
- Perpetrators of sentinel events were most often a friend, acquaintance, or neighbor (57%), and perpetrators of unwanted completed sex were most often partners (46%).
- More than half of both sentinel events and unwanted completed sex took place at the victim’s home or the perpetrator’s home.
- Perpetrators were almost always older than the victims for both sentinel events and unwanted completed sex.
- About half (55%) of girls who experienced a sentinel event told someone about their experience, usually a family member or a friend.
- The most common reasons for not telling someone about an experience of a sentinel event were not thinking the episode was a problem (31%), being embarrassed (30%), and being afraid to get in trouble (19%).
What is added by this report?
Among girls in Haiti, sentinel events occur frequently before later acts of completed unwanted sex and may represent a useful point of intervention. Few children disclose their experiences of sexual touching and attempted forced sex. Disclosure could be improved to better act on sentinel events and prevent future experiences of sexual violence.
Sumner SA, Marcelin LH, Cela T, Mercy JA, Lea V, Kress H, Hillis SD. Sentinel events predicting later unwanted sex among girls: A national survey in Haiti, 2012. Child Abuse and Neglect 2015; 50: 49-55.
*Footnote: some variation between prevalence estimates from published papers and country reports may exist. This variation reflects slight differences in the subsamples and variables used in the analyses.