STIRitUP is a 24 month collaborative research project looking at interpersonal violence and abuse in young people’s relationships. The project is based in five European countries: England, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy and Norway. STIR is short for Safeguarding Teenage Intimate Relationships.
The project has conducted a survey among 4,500 pupils in these five countries. STIRitUp has published the results of that survey in the Briefing paper 2. This paper presents the survey’s main findings in table 2 — here is an excerpt of that table (only looking at physical and sexual violence):
Gender and incidence rates for experiencing IPVA
|Country||Gender||Physical %||Sexual %|
First I’ll just point out the discrepancies between the findings presented in the table and how they’re presented in the text.
On page 5 there is a section titled “Sexual Violence” where the author writes:
Rates for sexual violence ranged from 17% to 41% for young women and 9% to 25% for young men.
The part about young women is correct (Cyprus 17% and England 41%), but the part about young men differs from the findings presented in table 2: Norway 9% and Italy 39%. Why was the number for young men reporting sexual violence against them left out?
On the same page in the same section the author writes:
Again, young women in England and Norway reported the highest rates with one in three reporting some form of unwanted sexual activity.
Young women in England had the highest rate of sexual violence with 41%, however, the next one with 39% was young men from Italy followed by young women from Italy with 35%. Then young women from Norway followed with 28%. It appears as if the findings of the Italian survey weren’t included in the text of the briefing.
What outliers can you identify in table 2 above? The authors of this briefing only noticed the one where young women in England and Norway were more likely to report physical and sexual violence than women in Bulgaria and Cyprus. They did not make note of the fact that in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Italy more young men than women reported sexual violence. They also didn’t notice that in Bulgaria and Italy more young men than women reported physical violence. Surely those are findings that should merit mentioning?
The difference between the minimum (Italy 9%) and maximum (England 22%) reporting of physical violence for young women is 13.
The difference between the minimum (Italy 17%) and maximum (England 41%) reporting of sexual violence for young women is 24.
The difference between the minimum (Norway 8%) and maximum (Bulgaria 15%) reporting of physical violence for young men is 7.
The difference between the minimum (Norway 9%) and maximum (Italy 39%) reporting of sexual violence for young men is 30.
It appears to me that the largest difference between countries is between men reporting sexual violence in Norway and Italy. Yet the authors ignore this and go on to speculate on why more young women in England and Norway report IPVA than young women in Bulgaria and Cyprus:
As European research on adult domestic violence (DV) has shown, the willingness of participants to report their experiences is often heavily influenced by how DV is viewed in different countries (FRA 2014). Countries with higher gender equality and greater DV awareness also often report the highest levels of DV. This may be because in these countries DV is viewed as a social and political rather than a personal and therefore private problem. The STIR expert meetings (see Briefing Paper 1) and the young people’s advisory groups identified that England and Norway had the highest levels of awareness in respect of interpersonal abuse in young people’s relationships. They also had the highest levels of physical and sexual violence for young women. It may therefore be that young women in Bulgaria and Cyprus are under-reporting their experiences of physical and sexual violence in a social context where awareness of the problem is lower.
First a quick note that the cited FRA 2014 is FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) (2014) Violence Against Women: An EU-Wide Survey … which of course only looked at female victims of domestic violence.
The hypothesis is that higher level of awareness of DV increases respondents’ willingness to disclose their experiences. This hypothesis breaks down when one looks at the male respondents, where respondents in countries with lower awareness of DV report higher victimization than male respondents in countries with high levels of awareness.
Can This Pattern Be Seen In Other Studies?
We can find similar results for young men in The Baltic Sea Regional Study on Adolescents’ Sexuality (2007) by Mossige et al as well. Norway and Sweden report pretty low levels of sexual abuse of boys while Poland, Lithuania and Russia report pretty high levels of sexual abuse of boys. Estonia is the odd one out reporting levels more comparable to Sweden and Norway.
So what is going on? The question is left unasked by the researchers at STIR and I haven’t seen anyone address it elsewhere either. The Baltic Sea Regional study says only this about the North-West Russia findings (page 153):
The high reported prevalence rates among boys are difficult to explain.
One has to wonder if they really meant: The high reported prevalence rates among boys are difficult to explain away.
The Lithuanian section had this to say on the high prevalence of sexual victimization among boys (page 88):
The finding that boys indicate to a larger degree than girls that they have been victims of sexual violence requires additional analysis. Without having references to other research data from Lithuania, it is complicated to do reasonable elaborations or conclusions. Notwithstanding, the possibility of gender differences when it comes to ways of comprehending the variables assessing different kinds of penetrating sexual activities should not be rejected.
Without stating it outright they are implying that boys over-report and/or that girls under-report due to not comprehending the survey questions about penetrating sexual activities.
The Polish section had this to say on the high prevalence of sexual victimization among boys (page 135):
The prevalence rate for the different sexual acts reported by boys is not only high compared to what is reported by girls. It is also very high when we compare to other international studies. In some international studies the female to male ratios are typically between 1,5:1 and 3:1 (Putnam, 2003). It remains to explain the relatively frequent reports of abusive experiences among male informants in Poland.
Another example of how researchers dismiss boys reports of victimization — perhaps caused by the narrative of DV as a thing men do to women — is this paper in the National Institute of Justice Journal no.261 in the US. It cites three other studies which found that more girls than boys initiate unidirectional violence in young relationships. One of the studies it looked at filmed young couples engaged in problem-solving activities and counted incidents of physical aggression. Here is what the authors of the NIJJ paper said about that study (my emphasis):
In a third study, teen couples were videotaped while performing a problem-solving task. Researchers later reviewed the tapes and identified acts of physical aggression that occurred between the boys and girls during the exercise. They found that 30 percent of all the participating couples demonstrated physical aggression by both partners. In 17 percent of the participating couples, only the girls perpetrated physical aggression, and in 4 percent, only the boys were perpetrators.(8) The findings suggest that boys are less likely to be physically aggressive with a girl when someone else can observe their behavior.
The cited study is “Observed Initiation and Reciprocity of Physical Aggression in Young, At-Risk Couples“. The bolded text does not occur in the cited paper. So when over four times as many girls as boys were the only perpetrator of physical aggression the first explanation the author thinks of is that the boys are more violent than they let on to and they are just too darn clever for the researchers to catch them in the act.
The cited paper has a slightly different theory than the bolded line:
Women’s physical aggression is more tolerated than men’s (Straus, 1997); therefore, young women may feel free to be more expressive during such conflicts than young men.
Note that they did not constrain this to conflicts being observed by third parties. Notice how they describe physical aggression in women as being “expressive.”
All This Begs The Question:
Who the hell needs research when the boys apparently are more violent by fiat?!
Perhaps the answer to “what’s going on” lies elsewhere? Perhaps the one-sided focus on domestic and sexual violence as something men do to women in countries with “high” levels of DV and sexual violence awareness is causing young men to under-report domestic and sexual violence in these countries?
This post is also published on Feminist Critics.