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Most young women, girls in US don’t report sexual abuse, believe it is part of life

Men simply can’t help externalizing their sexual desire, feel girls: Study.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Girls and young women in the US do not report sexual abuse because they do not feel victimized, according to the alarming findings of a new study, which reveals that most female teenagers and young adults believe that sexual assault is just a normal facet of everyday life, and nothing to get overly worked-up about.

The findings are part of a new report entitled “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse,” with research led by Heather R. Hlavka, an assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Marquette University. The study was conducted by analyzing hundreds of interviews with youth between the ages of three and 17, carried out by the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), and will be published in the upcoming June issue of Gender & Society magazine.

“This study addresses how girls negotiate their lived experiences in ways that are often ignored by law and policy,” says the report. “This work aims to re-cast youth as [people] having intentions [and] desires, rather than as passive objects. The study is situated within feminist research and practices that embody the legitimacy of patriarchy, including sexual harassment and violence, sexual subjectivity, and heteronormativity.”

Among the study’s most disturbing findings is that most young women seem to think that men simply can’t help externalize their sexual desire, and that they don’t report instances of sexual abuse because they believe it to be normal. Beyond just physical abuse, girls who were interviewed say that they have experienced verbal abuse, as well, but don’t do anything about it because they just don’t see a need to.

In one exchange, documented in the report, one girl talks about a boy who sits next to her on the school bus. She describes how nearly every day, the boy sits next to her, and slides his hand under her buttocks. She pushes it away, and he gets mad, blushing and not talking to her. Then, he says that he’s going to come to her house and rape her. When asked how this made her feel, the girl told the interviewer that she knew the boy was joking, and would never actually do anything.

Also of note is that most young girls do not trust authority figures, and don’t want to report these sexually provocative incidents out of fear that they’ll be labeled as “sluts” or “whores,” and that they’ll be blamed for instigating the behavior. Authority figures are also generally male, another reason that an inherent, subconscious mistrust festers in young girls, preventing them from telling their elders when such abuse occurs. Most girls also don’t consider it to be sexual abuse unless it results in intercourse or rape.

“The young women in the study provided insight into how some youth perceived their experiences of sexual violence and harassment during sexual encounters with men,” said a press release issued by Sociologists for Women in Society. “Policymakers, educators, and lawmakers need to address how sexual violence is actually experienced by youth beginning at very young ages in order to increase reporting practices, and to protect children from the everyday violence and harassment all too common in their lives.”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 60% of sexual assaults in the US are not reported to law enforcement authorities, which Hlavka’s study ultimately sheds light on the reason for. On top of that, 44% of sexual abuse and rape in the US are under the age of 18, the demographic focused upon for the study.