Survey finds 1 in 6 Estonians sexually abused in childhood

The new victim support crisis hotline offers callers assistance in Estonian, Russian and English.
The new victim support crisis hotline offers callers assistance in Estonian, Russian and English. Source: Social Insurance Board

Results of a sexual abuse survey commissioned by the Social Insurance Board indicate that one in six Estonians have been sexually abused in childhood by an adult.

According to Virve Kass, a victim support expert at the Estonian Social Insurance Board, the number of Estonians who have experienced childhood sexual abuse is startlingly high. "There may also be a considerable number of those who have not disclosed their traumatic experiences to anyone. In cases of sexual abuse or violence, the perpetrators are the ones who should bear all responsibility, and victims should not be blamed in any way. We welcome the public discussion that has developed around this issue, and we are glad to report that people are coming forward with more cases and receiving relevant support," Kass commented.

The online survey, conducted by pollster Norstat, comprised 2050 people between the ages of 15 and 74, focusing on their experiences with childhood sexual abuse (i.e. up to age 15), specifically abuse by adults. Overall, 17 percent had experienced sexual abuse, 6 percent had experienced attempted rape, and 3 percent had been raped as children. 

Male strangers were most frequently reported as perpetrators with 43 percent of the victims having experienced an attack by a stranger. In 40 percent of the cases, the perpetrators were male acquaintances. Close relatives were reported less frequently (10 percent), as were persons in positions of trust (4 percent).

According to Kass, victim reports cover a wide range of abuse. "There are cases where an adult stranger attacks a child on the street. Such adults often end up abusing several children, which is why it is important to report all cases to prevent any subsequent incidents from happening. However, there are also cases where children have been abused by stepfathers, fathers, brothers, mothers, or other close relatives," she explained.

According to Pille Alaver, head of services for Victims of Sexual Violence at the social insurance board, the consequences of any kind of sexual abuse are serious and longstanding. "In addition to physical injuries, victims of sexual abuse experience a wide range of mental health problems such as depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and anxiety. The sooner the victims receive help, the better their chances of recovery," Alaver explained.

She added that it is also extremely important to ensure that bystanders report any suspicions of abuse because victims often find it difficult to talk about what has happened to them.

The survey also indicated that only 33 percent of people who experienced attempted rape in childhood disclosed that information to someone else. "Owing to that, it is extremely important to teach children about their bodily rights, and to seek help if something has happened," stressed Alaver.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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