Sexually assaulted spouses report crimes sooner, U of T study shows

December 11, 2001

Women sexually assaulted by their husbands are more likely to inform police sooner than women sexually abused by boyfriends or acquaintances, a University of Toronto study shows.

Victims of spousal sexual abuse report the incident to police, on average, 16 hours after the attack, says Professor Lana Stermac of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of U of T, author of the study. Victims sexually assaulted by their boyfriends or acquaintances take an average of almost two days before notifying police.

"When a victim of spousal sexual abuse reports an attack, we believe she has probably experienced a long history of sexual abuse, therefore she reports the crime sooner," Stermac says. "The common belief is that women are not sexually abused by their husbands so it has been a hidden crime."

Using the database of a sexual assault care centre in Toronto, Stermac compared the reports of 97 victims of spousal sexual assault with those of 256 women sexually abused by boyfriends and 194 by an acquaintance. She analysed a number of factors including treatment, coercion tactics and physical injuries.

Sixty-eight per cent of victims of spousal and boyfriend sexual assault sought treatment and consented to having forensic evidence taken compared to 50 per cent of women sexually abused by an acquaintaince. Six per cent of the victims of spousal rape were pregnant at the time of the assault, reaffirming a trend that assailants will attack women in their most vulnerable state, Stermac says. "This result challenges the stereotype that spousal sexual assaults are less serious and less violent."
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The study was published in the November issue of the journal Violence Against Women.

CONTACT: Professor Lana Stermac of OISE/UT, 416-923-6641 x 2346, lstermac@oise.utoronto.ca or Sue Toye, U of T public affairs, 416-978-4289, sue.toye@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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