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Sexual assaults on minors are up by 50% in Spain and becoming more serious in nature
Crime

Sexual assaults on minors are up by 50% in Spain and becoming more serious in nature

The majority of victims are teenagers suffering repeat attacks, with more than half at the hands of an adult family member, according to the Anar Foundation

Alfonso Torices

Madrid

Wednesday, 10 April 2024, 23:30

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Sexual assaults on minors, with teenage girls being the main victims, continue to increase in Spain and, what is even worse, the attacks are becoming increasingly serious.

This is the main conclusion from Anar Foundation's close examination of this social problem, all too often kept hidden and victims silenced. This non-profit organisation that helps children and adolescents at risk is shedding light on a drama about which there is hardly any official data. How? It is thanks to the valuable information provided daily by the victims themselves, 4,500 of whom the foundation has helped and supported over the last five years via its helplines and its teams of specialists connecting and co-ordinating with emergency services, police forces, social services and legal services.

Its analysis indicates that sexual violence against children and adolescents continues to increase here in Spain. There were 55% more victims in 2023 who, directly or with the support of a family member or friend, dialled 900 202 010 or used the chat facility to ask for help than there were five years earlier in 2019. The trend has been growing year on year for more than a decade. Requests for help from minors to Anar for sexual assaults have quadrupled in fifteen years. Behind the increase in assaults is the fact that traditional patterns of abuse have continued and are now being joined by new variants such as gang assaults, widespread access to pornography among minors and cyber-abuse.

Gang assaults now account for more than one in ten assaults and have increased five-fold in 15 years

The bulk of these attacks still come from an adult family member or acquaintance, but more than one in ten (11%) involve a group, meaning that reported gang assaults have increased five-fold since 2008.

Furthermore, nine out of ten assaults reported to Anar are done in person, but between 5% and 6% are directly carried out via the internet, chat rooms or social media.

Just over 3% are grooming cases (adults contacting minors to obtain graphic images or other sexual favours) and over 2% are sexting, as well as sharing intimate images without the victim's knowledge or permission. Another 1.3% are being pressured to participate in handling pornography, and the remaining 1.4% are circumstances involving sexual exploitation and prostitution.

Not only have calls for help from minors gone through the roof, but they are also increasingly more serious and alarming in nature. The bulk of the allegations involve forced touching or masturbation and 11% are unwanted kisses, but up to 20% are rapes. Of the 4,500 cases in the last five years, nine out of ten are in the top categories for being serious attacks. For example: one in three are abuses suffered on a daily basis; almost half are attacks that last more than a year; up to 70% of the calls require the urgent mobilisation of resources (psychologists, health workers, social workers, police or prosecutors).

Three out of ten victims do not even consider reporting the assault

The typical victim is an adolescent girl. The average age is 12.5 years and 80% are girls, who are up to four times more likely to be assaulted than boys. Six out of ten cases are between 13 and 17 years old, most of them girls performing poorly educationally and who are unhappy at school. However, there is a specific male subtype too - boys under the age of nine. These boys suffer the most aggressive assaults at this early age. In 86% of cases their attacker is a family member.

The aggressor, on the other hand, is a man, an adult in eight out of ten cases and also a person very close to the victim 80% of the time. In half of the cases it is a member of the family and in three out of ten cases it is the father or the mother's partner. The attacks mostly take place in the family home, in the homes of acquaintances or at school, and 10% of the aggressors are repeat offenders. However, there is an increase in attacks by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends (5%) and 21% of the abuses committed by other minors are, in particular, cases of sexting and forced contact with pornography.

Significant and lasting injuries

The consequences of this menace to society are serious and long-lasting. Four out of ten victims helped by Anar suffer sudden changes in behaviour or mood-swings, major psychological problems (21%), self-harm and eating disorders and almost one in ten suffers from suicidal behaviour or suicidal thoughts. In addition, seven out of ten, especially the youngest children, do not receive psychological treatment after the incident(s).

Another negative aspect is that three out of ten victims have neither reported the sexual assault nor consider doing so. One of the reasons for this reticence is the lack of support they receive from their family or those around them: in 40% of cases there is zero response; in 18% of cases the family does not believe them; in 21% of cases they take no action for fear of being picked on again, and in 10% of cases they even blame the child or make excuses for the aggressor. When the silence is broken, in seven out of ten cases that first step is taken by the mother.

Anar's experts take the view that the most valuable weapon against this plague is prevention, which is why they call for the following: more awareness-raising and training campaigns to stop and take action against such attacks; proper, clear sex education in schools, and the immediate creation of a court system specialised in handling cases of violence against children and adolescents, something which the law has been demanding for two years and yet remains to be implemented.

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