One in 10 women in Britain admit that they have been forced into having sex against their will, the most comprehensive survey of Britons’ sexual behavior for decade revealed on Monday, prompting a warning from researchers that sexual coercion may have become “normalized.”
The findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), which questioned 15,000 people aged 16 to 74, also show that the proportion of women saying they have been victims of sexual coercion is more than double that of those who say they have been victims of rape.
Wendy Macdowall, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the lead Natsal author, said that education needed to address sexual coercion, which had become “normalized ... with rape at the extreme end of the spectrum.”
Those surveyed were asked “whether anyone has ever actually made them have sex against their will” and 9.8 percent of women said they had, at an average age of 18. For men the equivalent figure was 1.4 percent, according to the research, which was published in the Lancet on Monday.
Macdowall said that there was a need for early intervention in schools to help address the problem “before those gender stereotypes are developing” and because “somebody who has been victimized at a young age is much more likely to be victimized later.”
In 15 percent of cases among women and men recorded by Natsal, the perpetrator was a stranger. Among female victims who were aged 13 to 15 when the event occurred, a family member or friend was responsible in nearly half of cases (45.2 percent), while for women aged 25 and over, a former or current partner was responsible in seven out of every 10 cases.
The responses also confirmed huge under-reporting by victims, with 12.9 percent of women saying that they had reported the matter to the police, compared with 8 percent of male victims. Natsal, which interviewed people between September 2010 and August last year, also produced data on sexual behavior, fertility, contraceptive use and sex-related diseases. The study follows previous ones in 1990 and 2000. However, the most recent was the first to ask people about sex against their will.
The survey also found that one in six pregnancies are unplanned.
The age of first sexual experience, at 16, has remained the same as in the 2000 survey and the number of people having sex before the age of consent has not differed significantly either (31 percent of men and 29 percent of women). However, with people cohabiting with a partner later and having children later, the researchers warned that there was a longer period when people were at more risk of “negative sexual outcomes” such as sexually transmitted diseases.
When the first survey was carried out, men had had more sexual partners than women and while that remains the case, the gap is narrowing. Men also used to have their first heterosexual experience at a younger age, but now it is the same for women. Additionally, while the number of men reporting same-sex partners has changed little from 1990, for women it has increased from 1.8 percent to 7.9 percent over the past 20 years.