Prevalence and harm of sexual violence
Reporting of sexual violence
2.24It is generally considered that there is under-reporting of sexual violence in comparison to other types of offences.
2.25Approximately nine per cent of sexual violence in New Zealand was reported to Police on the basis of the 2006 NZCASS. In the 2009 NZCASS “sexual offences had the lowest reporting rate with only seven per cent of offences reported to Police”. In the 2014 NZCASS, an estimate of reporting of sexual violence was not provided due to a high sampling error.
2.26A 2009 study found that just 31 per cent of sexual violence incidents that are reported to Police are prosecuted, and only 13 per cent of sexual violence incidents reported to Police ultimately resulted in a conviction. This same study suggested that, of those sexual violence incidents that are reported to Police and that result in charges being filed, a large proportion fail to advance through to a completed trial (attrition). Data from Statistics New Zealand suggests that resolution rates in the criminal justice system are lower in relation to sexual violence as opposed to other forms of criminal offending in New Zealand. This may be due to the nature of sexual violence, which usually occurs in a private setting with no witnesses, leading to a lower likelihood of success in the criminal justice system. The low resolution rate in itself may deter victims, alongside procedural concerns about the nature of the adversarial trial system.
2.27The grim statistics above are not unique to New Zealand. One comparative study across Canada, Australia, England and Wales, Scotland and the United States (in the period 1995 to 2010) found that on average, 14 per cent of sexual violence victims report to the Police. Among those countries, 30 per cent of reported cases proceeded to prosecution, 20 per cent were adjudicated in court and 12.5 per cent of reported cases resulted in a conviction for a sexual violence offence.
2.28In 2014, Police crime statistics recorded 83 sexual offences per 100,000 members of the population, which amounts to only about 1.16 per cent of total offences recorded that year. A recorded offence is an “incident that has been reported to, or detected by police where police believe an offence is likely to have been committed”. Therefore, the level of recorded offences includes offences additional to those that have been reported by a victim. However, given the highly private nature of sexual violence, most recorded sexual offences will be as a result of reporting by the victim, rather than detection by the Police.
2.29The numbers of sexual offences recorded by Police is rising, despite the fact that the total number of offences recorded has declined slightly. As mentioned above, the recorded rate of sexual violence is not indicative of the true prevalence of sexual violence, so an increase in recorded offences could either show increased offending, increased reporting by victims or both.
2.30This increase in recorded offences has corresponded with a growing number of sexual offence charges, largely driven by an increase in charges for aggravated sexual assault rather than non-aggravated sexual assault.
2.31As mentioned above, the largest indicator of the recorded rate of sexual offences is likely to be the rate of victims who report the sexual violence to the Police. Studies have found various reasons why victims might be reluctant to do so. Victims may suffer shame, embarrassment, self-blame or guilt. They may fear the perpetrator or have a lack of support to encourage reporting. Some have negative perceptions and doubt about the reliability of the system. Victims frequently express negative perceptions and experiences of traditional court processes and choose not to report sexual violence to the Police. Some may not understand that what happened to them constitutes a sexual offence.
2.32In the 2014 NZCASS, respondents were asked the reasons why they did not report “violent interpersonal offences”. This category includes but is not limited to sexual violence. Amongst the responses were that the matter was private (37 per cent, being 14 per cent higher than the New Zealand average), “shame/embarrassment/humiliation” (14 per cent, being six per cent higher than the New Zealand average) and not wanting to get the perpetrator into trouble (10 per cent, being four per cent higher than the New Zealand average). Obviously, these responses relate to all interpersonal offences, and it is unknown whether the full range of possible responses included, for example, fear of the court process.