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Young girls think sexual assault is OK

This disturbing new study shows young women don’t report acts of sexual violence because they’re ‘the norm’.

A new study has uncovered a rather unsurprising fact – women aren’t as affected by sexual violence as they should be.

An upcoming issue of Gender & Society features the study Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse, where 100 girls and young women between the ages of three and seventeen were interviewed by the Children’s Advocacy Centre.

They found that in a number of cases the participants had been sexually harassed, but brushed it off and didn’t report it because the behaviour was more or less considered ‘the norm’.

“Objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse appear to be part of the fabric of young women’s lives,” it stated.

The worst part? Most girls don’t even realise that the male behaviour was inappropriate.

“Male power and privilege and female acquiescence were reified in descriptions of ’routine’ and ’normal’ sexualized interactions... Assaultive behaviours were often justified, especially when characterized as indiscriminate.”

Sex and Relationship Coach Isiah McKimmie spoke to Cosmo about the disturbing findings, and said this mindset is not going to be easy to change.

“This kind of power imbalance is so ingrained in our culture, it's going to take a lot of effort to change it - on all levels of society.”

“I think it's important that we recognise exactly what sexual assault is and begin to educate both men and women around the importance of changing it.” Agreed.

So how can you recognise sexual assault or harassment?

“Sexual assault or harassment is any unwanted or non-consensual sexual activity, language touch. If you feel uncomfortable, it's likely what's going on is not okay. If you're too drunk to really give consent, it's not okay. If he has to coerce or convince you, it's not okay. If he uses any kind of physical force that isn't consented to, it's not okay,” says Isiah.

In one of the studies’ examples, a 13 year old girl told her interviewer, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean... I never think it's a big thing because they do it to everyone.”

Seriously disturbing stuff.

Fixing this problem is more than just teaching girls what is and isn’t OK, especially when the inappropriate behaviour is so ingrained in popular culture as being ‘part of growing up’.

“We need men to take the lead and educate each other on what is okay, what isn't and what being a 'strong man' can really be. It's also going to take recognition by governments and law enforcement so they can take a strong lead on this also,” says Isiah.

If you’re distressed or you need to speak to someone about your experience, contact the National Sexual Assault Counselling Service on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800respect.org.au