Research Brief: Many who experience sexual violence in childhood do not receive services
Preventing sexual violence against children is essential. Childhood victims of sexual violence are at significantly increased risk for numerous poor health outcomes, ranging from HIV to poor mental health to chronic disease. The extent of sexual violence against children is unknown in many countries. This study reports findings from Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS) in seven countries: Cambodia, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. The VACS are national household surveys of boys and girls ages 13-24 to measure the extent of violence against children. This study presents estimates of the prevalence of sexual violence in childhood among boys and girls across the seven countries included, along with information about what proportion of victims received services for their experiences. This information is critical in understanding the burden of violence and in driving action to prevent and respond to it, and to monitor progress.
- The lifetime prevalence of experiencing any type of sexual violence in childhood among girls ranged from 4% in Cambodia to 38% in Swaziland.
- The lifetime prevalence of experiencing any type of sexual violence in childhood among boys ranged from 6% in Cambodia to 21% in Haiti (about 1 in 5 boys).
- The lifetime prevalence of unwanted sex (physically forced or coerced) was also high, ranging from 2% in Cambodia and 18% in Swaziland among girls. Among boys, unwanted sex ranged from 0.2% in Cambodia to 8% in Haiti.
- Swaziland had the highest proportion of female victims who received services (24%), and Zimbabwe had the lowest (3%).
- Data on whether victims sought services for sexual violence showed that service seeking is quite low among victims.
- 10% of girls and 6% of boys sought services in Malawi.
- 7% of girls and 2% of boys sought services in Kenya.
- 16% of girls and 11% of boys sought services in Tanzania.
What is added by this report?
Sexual violence against children is common worldwide. Based on data from seven countries, Cambodia had the lowest rates of sexual violence among both boys and girls. Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Kenya had the highest rates of sexual violence against girls, while Haiti, Kenya, and Malawi had the highest rates among boys. In the seven examined countries, one in four girls or more experienced sexual violence in childhood. Fewer than one in six children who experienced sexual violence sought services for those experiences. Receipt of services was very low; in most of the seven countries, fewer than one in ten children who experienced sexual violence received services. The only notable exception was Swaziland, where one in four female victims received services. Efforts to assess, respond to, and prevent childhood sexual violence against both boys and girls could strengthen child protection systems.
Sumner SA, Mercy JA, Saul J, Motsa-Nzuza N, Kwesigabo G, Buluma R, Marcelin LH, Lina H, Shawa M, Moloney-Kitts M, Kilbane T, Sommarin C, Ligiero DP, Brookmeyer K, Chiang L, Lea V, Lee J, Kress H, Hillis SD. Prevalence of sexual violence against children and use of social services – seven countries, 2007-2013. MMWR 2015; 64(21): 565-569.
*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.