PeNSE

One of every five school girls has suffered sexual violence

Section: Social Statistics | Cristiane Crelier | Design: Brisa Gil e Jessica Candido

September 10, 2021 10h00 AM | Last Updated: September 15, 2021 05h28 PM

  • At a glance

  • More than 20% of the teenagers aged 13 to 17 have already been touched, manipulated, kissed or had body parts exposed against their will.
  • And 8.8% of the girls at this age have already been forced to have sex, most of them before 14 years of age.
  • Among public school students there were more reports of this kind of violence than among those from private schools: 16.3% against 14.4%.
  • Aggressors tend to be close people, in most cases, with 29.1% being boyfriends or girlfriends and 24.8%, friends.
  • At least 21% of teenagers aged 13 and 17 claimed to have been assaulted by their father or guardians at some point in the 12 months prior to the survey
  • 13.2% reported having been victims of physical aggression by people other than their father or mother or guardian.
More than 20% of school girls claimed to have already suffered some kind of sexual violence. Among boys, the percentage is of 9%. Photo: Anete Lusina/Pexels

Sexual violence is present in the lives of a significant percentage of boys and girls who attend school. Among girls, one in five teenagers (20.1%) aged 13 to 17 says they have already been touched, manipulated, kissed or had body parts exposed against their will. And 8.8% of girls at this age have already been forced into sex, most of them before 14 years of age. Boys are also victims of this type of violence, but to much smaller percentages. The aggressors are usually people close to the victims. In addition, the socioeconomic context may determine where each type of aggression is more common, with sexual harassment rates being higher among students in private schools and rape rates among students in public schools.

These are some of the data obtained by the 2019 National Survey of School Health (PeNSE), which interviewed students of this age group throughout Brazil on various topics, ranging from habits and health to self-image and mental health. PeNSE's information collection method, through a mobile device used by teenagers themselves, guarantees the anonymity and individuality of the respondent, so that students are less afraid to answer about sensitive topics.

“This way, we are able to better collect information on sexual violence, which is not usually reported to authorities in general, mainly in the case of people under 18, as they generally do not know who to report to”, says Ms. Cristiane Soares, one of PeNSE’s analyst.

In general, 14.6% of students aged 13 to 17 said to have suffered some kind of sexual violence at least once in their lives. But the figure among the girls  (20.1%) more than doubled that of boys (9.0%). In private schools, there were more cases of this kind of violence (16.3%) than in the public ones (14.4%)

“We must be alert. Very often seen as “just kidding”, sexual harassment or assault can get close to rape, making victims full of fear and willing to leave school, for instance. This kind of violence may bring several consequences for teenagers, creating a culture of acceptance, where those acts are not seen as serious or punishable”, emphasizes Ms. Soares.

Among the main aggressors, teenagers pointed out boyfriends or girlfriends (29.1%), friends (24.8%), strangers (20.7%), relatives (16.4%). parents or guardians (6.3%). Considering that sexual violence cases can occur more than once, and, be performed by different people, students could identify more than one actor in the questionnaire.

“When thinking of public policies to help those teenagers, it is necessary to be very alert to the fact that aggressors, most of the times, are inside the victim's house or are affectionately related to them. That provokes a feeling of unsafety and of having no one to go for help. The young victim fells that no none can listen to them about what is going on”, says Ms, Cristiane Soares, highlighting the importance of public policies on listening, welcoming, monitoring and guiding. “The feeling of guilt affects those people socially and emotionally” she adds.

Additionally, 6.3% of the teenagers claimed to have been forced into sex against their will. And once again girls are the main target of aggressors: 8.8% said they have been forced, against  3.6% of the boys. The highest occurrence was among the students of public schools (6.5%, against 4.9% in private schools).

An even more alarming fact is that in 68.2% of the cases of this type of violence, students were 13 or younger when forced. Boyfriends and girlfriends were the main aggressors (26.1%), followed by a relative (22.4%). But stranger (19.2%), friend (17,7%), person other than the listed ones (14.7%) and relative or guardian (10.1%) had relevant percentages as well.

Physical aggression is higher at home than outside home

The other types of physical aggression seem to be more common at home. At least 21% of teenagers aged 13 and 17 claimed to have been assaulted by their relatives or guardians at some point of the 12 months prior to the survey. More students aged 13 to 15 reported to have faced this kind of aggression (23.0%), whereas in the age group of 16 to 17 the percentage was lower (17.3%).

“It is worth mentioning that PeNSE’s questionnaire does not take into account weather the aggression was light or heavy due to some inappropriate attitude or the so-called gratuitous violence. The questionnaire does take into account the feeling in relation to the aggression, if the teenager felt assaulted and unprotected by the very person who was supposed to protect them” emphasizes Ms. Soares.

And girls were once more the ones that most reported this kind of violence (22.1%, against 19.9% for boys). As for the socioeconomic context, private school students were the ones that most reported aggression by their parents (23.6%, against 20.6% in public schools)

On the other hand, physical aggression inflicted by person other than parents or guardians was reported by 13.2% of the students. And once again the students of private schools were the ones that most reported that kind of violence (16.4%, against 12.7% in public schools).

But most of times, aggressors are friends (48.2%) or relatives (17.6%). They can also be someone else (15.8%), boyfriend (12.3%) or a stranger (11.7%). In addition, there were reports of police violence (7.0%) or, more rarely, violence inflicted by some school employee (1.7%).