Bias And Unasked Questions

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 %
Bulgaria Female 11 21
Male 15 25
Cyprus Female 10 17
Male 9 19
England Female 22 41
Male 12 14
Italy Female 9 35
Male 13 39
Norway Female 18 28
Male 8 9


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.

The researchers note this and treat it as anomalies in their data – although it is becoming clearer to me that it’s not, as at least two studies show boys reporting high prevalence numbers in those countries with a lower awareness of DV and sexual violence.
We see a tendency to explain low incidence rates among young women with a theory on how it’s under-reported. We also see a tendency to either ignore high incidence rates among young men (STIR) or explain them with a theory on how it’s over-reported (Mossige et al).

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?!

Another Hypothesis

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.


2 thoughts on “Bias And Unasked Questions

  1. Dear Tamen,
    I just found this wonderful blog and I love it.
    I’m from Italy and I’m trying to sensibilize here too about male rape victims.
    I would like to link you some of the studies I found about gender symmetry in rape:

    1) 50% of male domestic violence victims are sexual violence victims by their partners. Similar findings were found in females.
    [Hines DA, Douglas EM. Sexual Aggression Experiences Among Male Victims of Physical Partner Violence: Prevalence, Severity, and Health Correlates for Male Victims and Their Children. Arch Sex Behav. 2014 Dec 12.]
    2) “Twenty-six percent of the sample reported a total of 160 incidents of sexual coercion ranging in severity from unwanted kissing to sexual intercourse. The most common outcome was intercourse and was followed by kissing and fondling. No gender differences were discovered regarding victim status or types of coercion tactics experienced. A MANOVA analysis found no overall gender effect, but marital status and protected class membership did have a significant effect with people who are married and protected class members reporting more sexual coercion.”
    [Waldner LK, Vaden-Goad L, Sikka A. Sexual Coercion in India: an exploratory analysis using demographic variables. Arch Sex Behav. 1999 Dec;28(6):523-38.]
    3) Do really men think more about sex than women?
    4) “Our results suggest that associations among victimization, alcohol risk, and expectancies generalize to Hispanic women and men.” (they also see a similar percentage of male and female rape victims)
    5) Using dichotomous (yes/no) response categories male perpetrators were 47% and female ones 3%. Using more accurate questionnaires like CTS there was a not significant difference (26% male perpetrators and 22% females)
    [Hamby S, Sugarman DB, Boney-McCoy S. Does questionnaire format impact reported partner violence rates?: An experimental study. Violence Vict. 2006 Aug;21(4):507-18.]
    6) “Male and female victimization of sexual coercion ranged from 5.4 and 8.9 %, respectively, in Budapest to 27.1 and 25.3 % in Stuttgart. […] Men and women predominantly experienced IPV as both victims and perpetrators with few significant sex-differences within cities. […] Results support the need to consider men and women as both potential victims and perpetrators when approaching IPV.”
    [Costa D, Soares J, Lindert J, Hatzidimitriadou E, Sundin Ö, Toth O, Ioannidi-Kapolo E, Barros H. Intimate partner violence: a study in men and women from six European countries. Int J Public Health. 2015 May;60(4):467-78.]
    7) “This study compared the reported incidence among males and females of dominance-possessiveness, sexual pressure, and use of physical force by one’s partner for a sample of 130 married college students and 130 college students in dating relationships. […] Males were as likely as females to report the partner engaging in these behaviors, and this applied to both the married and dating students.”
    8) “More women (97.5%) than men (93.5%) had experienced unwanted sexual activity; more men (62.7%) than women (46.3%) had experienced unwanted intercourse.”
    9) “Males are more likely than females to report experiencing sexual coercion at mild, moderate and severe levels.”
    [Fiebert, M. S., & Osburn, K. (2001). Effect of gender and ethnicity on self reports of mild, moderate and severe sexual coercion. Sexuality & Culture, 5, (2), 3-11.]
    10) Excluding petting and kisses, and considering just oral and intercourse, 1 in 5 men are raped
    11) “Twenty-eight percent of 1185 students reported that they had been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way at school at least once in the 4-week period. Of these 317 students, 61% said it happened monthly, and 39% said that it had happened weekly. Five percent said that they had been forced to do something sexual (not including kissing) at school once or more during the four weeks (there were no significant gender differences). Girls and boys were equally likely to report that the other gender was the perpetrator.”
    [Canadian Public Health Association (2004). CPHA safe school study]
    12) “Finally, sexual revictimization occurred for both genders and across all sites, suggesting that sexual revictimization is a cross-gender, cross-cultural phenomenon.”
    13) “This paper presents findings from the International Dating Violence study regarding the prevalence of physical assault, sexual coercion, and suicidal ideation among university students and explores the relationships between suicidal ideation and dating violence. Nearly 16,000 university students from 22 sites in 21 countries were recruited through convenience sampling.[…] Male and female students were remarkably similar in the proportion of those who physically assaulted a partner or reported being a victim of sexual coercion.”
    It’s an international study and a FEMINIST journal (yes! Even they tell the truth about rape!)
    14) “Using a sample of 338 university students (54% female) from three Russian university sites, four different types of partner violence are examined: physical assault, physical injury, sexual coercion, and psychological aggression. High prevalence rates were found for all types of violence, aggression, and coercion. Consistent with previous research, male and female students were about equally likely to be victims and perpetrators of all violent and aggressive actions.”
    15) “Three hundred and two male college students were recruited for the current study from a midsized Midwestern university. Of these men, 51.2% reported at least one sexual victimization experience since age 16.”
    16) “A predominantly heterosexual sample of 204 college men were asked to report incidents of pressured or forced sexual touch or intercourse since age 16. About 34% indicated they had received coercive sexual contact: 24% from women, 4% from men, and 6% from both sexes. Contact involved only sexual touching for 12% and intercourse for 22%. Sexual contact was pressured in 88% of the 81 reported incidents by tactics of persuasion, intoxication, threat of love withdrawal, and bribery. In 12% of the incidents, sexual contact was forced through physical restraint, physical intimidation, threat of harm, or harm. Contact was initiated by an acquaintance or intimate in 77% of incidents.”
    17) “We concluded that federal surveys detect a high prevalence of sexual victimization among men—in many circumstances similar to the prevalence found among women. We identified factors that perpetuate misperceptions about men’s sexual victimization: reliance on traditional gender stereotypes, outdated and inconsistent definitions, and methodological sampling biases that exclude inmates. We recommend changes that move beyond regressive gender assumptions, which can harm both women and men.”
    18) “This study examined sexual coercion and psychosocial correlates among 284 diverse adolescent and emerging adult males in high school and college. Over 4 in 10 participants (43%) experienced sexual coercion: more specifically, the participants
    reported: verbal coercion (31%, n 86), seduction coercion (26%, n 73), physical coercion (18% n 52), and substance coercion (7%, n 19). […] Of participants who reported sexual coercion, 95% reported female perpetrators only, one person reported coercion by a male, four participants (1.6%) reported both male and female perpetrators, and two people did not provide the gender of perpetrator. Across sexual coercion tactics, the majority of reported perpetrators were female: 96% verbal coercion, 74% substance coercion, 95% seduction coercion, and 92% physical coercion”
    [French, B. H., Tilghman, J. D., & Malebranche, D. A. (2014, March 17). Sexual Coercion Context and Psychosocial Correlates Among Diverse Males. Psychology of Men & Masculinity.]

  2. Pingback: Crime Survey of England and Wales – Made To Penetrate Questions Confirmed | Tamen's writings

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