Study: Half of all victims of sexual abuse do not report incidents

Around a half of respondents aged 16-24 to a recent survey said they had not reported sexual abuse or harassment they had suffered to the relevant authorities (picture is illustrative).
Around a half of respondents aged 16-24 to a recent survey said they had not reported sexual abuse or harassment they had suffered to the relevant authorities (picture is illustrative). Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

Half of the victims of sexual abuse do not tell anyone about what happened to them, and around a tenth of the victims did not know anyone to talk to or turn to, ERR's Novaator portal reports. A fall in reported numbers during the coronavirus pandemic was largely because teachers and educators – those who report incidents and suspected incidents to the police the most – had been away from the children under their charge due to quarantining requirements.

A study on sexual abuse commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, aimed in part at mapping sexual abuse experiences among 16-26 year olds, revealed that 45 percent of young people in this age group in Estonia have fallen victim to sexual abuse or harassment, or sexual harassment or abuse related to their Internet use, during their lifetimes. 

The average age of first-time victims was 15-and-a-half; 41 percent reported that they had experienced some sort of sexual harrassment.

Brit Tammiste, criminal policy adviser at the Ministry of Justice and one of the people behind the study, told Vikerraadio Tuesday that the department receives only a small number of cases of ill-treatment. 

"The results of the study confirm that sexual abuse takes place largely in secret," she said.

Tammiste added that only about half of young people who have suffered abuse tell someone what had happened. 

"Consequently, the parties are not talking to anyone – and this is definitely a challenge for those of us who are involved in prevention, child protection and aid agencies. We want to reach a situation where young people and children in such situations can get help and talk to someone, so that they are not left alone," said Tammiste.

Of those who did not report incidents which had happened to them, around half did so because they thought the case was not serious enough to merit that.

Around 20 percent thought at the time that what had happened to them was in no way wrong, and in one-third of the cases, a sense of shame and a fear of worrying their parents, was to blame, the results found.

"What is serious and what we can do more about immediately is that a tenth of the victims pointed out that they did not know who to talk to when something had happened," he added.

57 percent of young people who have not experienced sexual abuse in their lives said they thought they would report what happened to the police in the event.

However, when something concrete happens, the police are often not seen as the most trusted place to go, the report said.

Talking about sexual abuse can be difficult for the victim. One reason not to seek help may be that it would involve having to recall a particularly embarrassing and difficult story, and to recount it to many people. 

Anna Frank-Viron, head of the Social Insurance Board's (Sotsiaalkindlustusamet) Children's House (Lastemajateenus) service, says that there is in fact a whole network of support in such institutions.

"If a child approaches Children's House and tells his or her story there, there is this entire network: A police forensic doctor, child protection staff, different specialists- We can deal with it right away," she said.

Frank-Viron emphasized that Children's House also encourages people who suspect that a child may have been sexually abused to report the matter. 

"Suspicions could be reported so that the children would not be questioned directly themselves," Frank-Viron added.

She also said that a large number of victims anywhere have had prior experience with the police, often negative, such as having been caught illegally smoking or drinking.

"One part of our job is to encourage cooperation or contact with the police. When a child approaches us, one task is to create a more positive image of the police. To explain that if previous experiences have been negative, this is absolutely not related to what we do at Children's House. "Frank-Viron said, adding that a home always informs the police about sexual abuse cases.

Reimo Raivet, head of the sexual crimes and child protection group at the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) Northern Prefecture criminal bureau, said that the police do not look for any guilt on the part of a victim, but do their best to find out the background of the act, and ensure that perpetrators receive a fair penalty.

"I have read the study and I would definitely refute the fear that if young people have consumed alcohol, the police would somehow punish them - these are the fears that I can dispel," Raivet said.

He also noted that the number of reports of sexual abuse had decreased during the worst fo the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying self-quarantining.

Anna Frank-Viron said the reason for this was that most of the reporters of such incidents are teachers and educators. "As the reporters - specialists dealing with children, also sat at home, that is why the number of applicants is smaller," she said.


Children's House offers help to help children who have been sexually abused or for whom there are suspicions of having been sexually abused.

The child helpline number is +372 112 116 111, and adults requiring assistance can call +372 116 006.

Additional assistance online is here and here (second link in Estonian).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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