Porn linked to disturbing rates of sexual violence

Pressuring people for sex, psychological manipulation and unwanted kissing and touching are the most common forms of sexual violence revealed by confronting research.

Experts are trying to understand findings one-in-five Australians have perpetrated a form of sexual violence in their adulthood.

One in 14 respondents admitted to the behaviour in the past year and 22 per cent at any point since turning 18, in a survey of 5000 people for the Australian Institute of Criminology.

Pressuring someone for dates or sexual activity was the most common form, followed by emotional or psychological manipulation for sex and kissing or touching without consent.

The frank admissions come as no surprise to Sexual Assault Services Victoria chief executive Kathleen Maltzahn, who said men don't always perpetrate these acts in secret.

"And men get away with it. I think that is one of the really big contributors," she said.

Sexual Assault Services Victoria CEO Kathleen Maltzahn
Kathleen Maltzahn says pornography can give people the wrong impression of how to act.

Greater access to pornography can be linked to the continued prevalence of sexual violence, according to Ms Maltzahn, especially in a sharp rise in non-fatal strangulation.

"Many people think it's fine to do but you can't do strangulation carefully, so pornography is selling a big lie," she said.

"People act how they are being shown, but we know it's more complicated and we absolutely see the impact of this."

One in six survey respondents admitted to sexual harassment or coercion in adulthood and 11 per cent admitted to sexual assault.

Some 2.7 per cent admitted to sexual intercourse without consent and a similar number admitted to stealthing - removing protection during sex.

The research insights are concerning but governments alone cannot fix the problems, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth says.

"This is about bystanders. This is about having conversations, equipping schools and others with conversations about what what respectful relationships look like," she said.

"We all need to work together if we're going to see the end of this."

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth
Sexual violence is an issue the whole community needs to address, Amanda Rishworth says.

The criminology institute's deputy director Rick Brown said perpetrators involved with the criminal justice system were only a small portion of those who committed sexual violence.

"The vast majority of offences and perpetrators are never reported to police, and attrition rates are high among cases of sexual violence that do come to the attention of police, meaning few actually progress to prosecution and conviction,” he said.

Understanding the motives of perpetrators was important in focusing prevention efforts on them rather than their victims, according to Dr Brown.

The study results are based on a survey of 5067 Australians aged 18 to 45 in May and June 2023 by Roy Morgan Research.

Questions were phrased using "non stigmatising" language, because terms such as rape and sexual assault had been linked to lower response rates.

Half of the participants were women, 49 per cent were men and one per cent identified as gender diverse.

The survey's broader purpose was to understand the connection between pornography and sexual violence in people who grew up with easy access to the internet.

Men were "significantly more likely" than women to commit sexual violence, with the report citing evidence it was "one of the most gendered forms of violence, committed overwhelmingly by men against women".

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show one in five adult women and one in 15 adult men have been victim to sexual violence since age 15.

Statistics released by the bureau in June show the number of sexual assaults recorded by police rose by 11 per cent in 2023, to the highest on record.

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