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Sexuality, Violence and Psychological After-Effects
A Longitudinal Study of Cases of Sexual Assault which were Reported to the Police
by Michael C. Baurmann
What follows is the entire English-language summary of a study done in Germany under the auspices of the Bundeskriminalamt, the equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
This summary appears on pages 523-33 of Sexualität, Gewalt und psychische Folgen: Eine Längschnittuntersuchung bei Opfern sexueller Gewalt und sexuellen Normverletzungen anhand von angezeigten Sexualkontakten (Wiesbaden, Bundeskriminalamt Forschungsreihe Nr. 15, 1983).
Sexual behavior deviant from societal norms is usually discussed with mild,
unconscious apprehension (page 47). Furthermore, only apparently rational arguments
invariably appear in the debate (page 52). For decades, criminal lawyers have repeatedly
deplored the irrationality of such discussions. A differentiated picture of the sexual
offender, his crime and the victim is often lacking. Among other things, this has to do
with the fact that sexuality -- despite the so-called Sexual Revolution -- is still
largely taboo. There remains an awkwardness in speaking about sexuality and, therefore,
problems related to sexuality are not presented objectively.
The diffuse opinions and attitudes, the prejudices, the lack of information
concerning deviant sexuality (page 51), either totally or partially affect our day-to-day
What the victim's situation actually looks like and where the real dangers for
the sexual victim lie were the subject of an empirical, comprehensive longitudinal study
in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The main questions posed in this survey were (pages 54, 84 and 137):
III. Methods of the study (pages 87, 127 and 205)
The victimological analysis was based on a 4-year questionnaire study (1969 -
1972) of virtually all sexual victims known to the police in the German state of Lower
Saxony (n = 8058). In this study (page 127) victims were persons who either had
declared themselves as victims or had been declared by others as being a victim. Both were
considered here to be declared victims". The age of female victims was up to 20
years; male victims up to 14 years. Nearly all of the declared sexual victims were
subjected to a questionnaire consisting of 29 items. The assertions of the 8,058 declared
sexual victims contained in the comprehensive investigation were evaluated
victimologically. As the distribution of the reported indecent assaults in the State of
Lower Saxony does not differ significantly from the corresponding distribution in the
Federal Republic of Germany, the results of this longitudinal study characterize the
situation in West Germany.
In a second phase conducted in 1979 and 1980, 112 sexual victims randomly
selected from the total were asked to participate in a follow-up study performed six to
ten years after the offense had been reported to the police (page 127). The follow-up
study consisted to a large extent of a standardized in-depth interview which integrated
reliable psychodiagnostic tests and victimological items.
Depending on the age of the subject four psychodiagnostic inventories were used:
The interviews normally lasted from two to four hours and were face- to-face
talks between the victim and a male or female psychologist in the home of the victim.
In addition, in a third part of the project, 131 files of cases of indecent assault which had been tried in court were studied for comparison (page 132). In this victimologically oriented document analysis, only those files were selected which contained a thorough psychological report on the credibility of the victim's testimony. These sexual assaults had occurred during a period comparable to that of the comprehensive study. The purpose of this third phase was to compare cases of sexual contacts merely reported to the police with condemned cases. This is in contrast to almost all previous studies, which had dealt with condemned sexual contacts (p 109).
IV. Results and discussion (page 215)
Sexual victims are, in 80% to 90% of the cases, girls and women (page 215). The
age group varies according to the nature of the offense (page 227). In sexual assault on
children nearly two-thirds were between 7 and 13 years of age. In the area of forcible
rape, primarily young women between the ages of 14 and 20 were endangered. The age range
of women who encounter an exhibitionist was more widespread, but the incidence was higher
in the younger age groups.
Of the suspects and perpetrators 99.6% were men, primarily between the ages of
25 and 35 (page 234). The still widespread opinion that the majority of indecent
assailants are older or aged men is incorrect. The age difference between victim and
suspect was, on the average, 25 years; in cases of violent sexual assault, however, only 7
years. Sexual victims are therefore mainly young women and girls threatened by men who are
"in the best years of their lives" (page 237).
The most important groups of sexual offenses registered in this study were (page
Under "other" in this study were sexual assault of foster children or
wards (§ 174 German Penal Code), sexual intercourse between relatives (§ 173 German
Penal Code) with a total of ~8%. If injuries of victims of incest are diagnosed, one has
to face the fact that victims of incest often live in broken homes and that there are many
causes in such families to injure the child. In such cases the sexual contact is another
symptom of a disturbed family but not the only cause for the injury. An extremely small
group was that of reported seduction (§ 182 German Penal Code); per year only about ten
to fifteen offenders are charged in the Federal Republic of Germany under this paragraph.
Homosexual contacts played no important statistical or criminological role in
this study. On the one hand, they composed only 10-15% of the cases, and on the other, the
sexual contacts were described by the victims themselves as "harmless", almost
exclusively without the use of violence by the suspect (page 287), and as a result, none
of the male victims questioned felt themselves to have been injured. In addition no injury
could be determined in these cases with the help of test procedures.
The exhibitionists were men unknown to the women and children in 93.0% of these
cases. In the other kinds of reported sexual contacts, however, the sexual perpetrator was
either known previously or even related to the victim (70.3% of these cases) (page 249).
This means that warnings against unknown sexual assailants is preventively ineffective
and, as far as sexual education and up-bringing is concerned, highly dubious, as a feeling
of being threatened by strange men is conveyed, while for example, rape was usually
performed by an acquaintance in the close social environment. With increasing
acquaintanceship between victim and perpetrator, there was an increase in the intensity of
the sexual contact (CC = O.53), and often in the psychosocial injury to the sexual victim.
If the incident was reported to the police at all (the estimated dark figure is
1:10; page 90), then it was the cases of violent sexual assault and exhibitionism that
were more quickly reported by the victim or relatives (page 287). Among the victims of
rape, this declaration is usually an expression of indignation, fear, anger and affliction
on the part of the victim. With exhibitionism, in contrast, it is more the indignation of
the relatives of the victim about the deviant sexual behavior of a strange man. As the
accused is a stranger, there is less scruple about reporting him.
The situation is quite different in cases of child molesting (§ 176 of the
German Penal Code). In many of those cases the sexual contacts are not given much
importance by the children, and sometimes they do not even tell anyone so that the delict
becomes known accidentally. Even in serious delicts in this area, parents are often
reluctant to report the incident as the accused is often an acquaintance. In both cases it
is possible that -- for different reasons -- secondary injury to the victim may easily
occur. I.e., the child incurs additional injury from the behavior of persons in the
environment or injury even first results from this behavior (page 461).
Studying the literature it was very interesting to note that very few attempts
have been made to set up a definition for the term "injury", which could be
operationalized for diagnostic purposes (page 163). Therefore injuries caused by sexual
offenses were defined for this study as follows (page 201):
Injury as a result of a sexual contact is a reactive, sexual, social,
psychological and/or physical disturbance which the injured person is subjected to by a
guilty party. This disturbance can be either subjectively recognized by the injured
person, him-/ or herself, or it can be diagnosed by specific scientific methods. The
disturbance can be caused directly by the event itself, or indirectly.
The measurement of injury was operationalized in an index of injury (page 409)
ranging from 0 (no injury) to 100 (maximum injury). Half of this index was supposed to be
determined by symptoms reported actively by the victim when questioned whether s/he had
noticed, at any time afterwards, any physical, social, psychological, or sexual problems
which were caused by the sexual offense. 25% of the index contained the answers to a
check-list of possible injuries, drawn from the literature, and another 25% the extreme
results (SN < 4 or > 6) in the above-listed psychological tests.
This method of operationalizing the measurement of injury emphasizes the
subjective judgment of the victim, as we think that the victim knows best whether s/he was
hurt or not. This method is in contradiction to that of a few authors who have reported on
injuries without having asked the victims themselves about the symptoms and their causes.
In the present study about half of the victims of indecent assault (48.2%)
showed no injury at all, about 18% a lower index and about 34% a higher or very high index
of injury. On an average the index of injury was 8.7. In cases of forcible rape it went up
to 22.3. The highest index explored in this survey was 50.0 (page 459).
Evaluation of the constructed index of injury revealed that self-reported
injuries had the highest degree of validity. In contrast, common psychological tests used
for other purposes did not provide much information. That means for the future that
victimoIogists have to construct special inventories to objectively measure the grade of
injury from which the victims suffer. For the years to come we then might be able to
compare the victim assessment of injury in different groups of victimizations (criminal
and non-criminal) with each other.
Of the reported sexual contacts, half of the sexual victims claimed the sexual
act itself to be the main cause of their injury, one-third the behavior of the suspect and
one-tenth each the behavior of relatives/friends or the police (page 461). This indicates
that the police are less often responsible for psychological injuries of sexual victims
than some have assumed up to now, but even these few cases should encourage reflection and
improvement of police work. In the tried cases, the sexual victims could not be
diagnostically followed-up. It can be assumed however that the distribution of primary and
secondary victimization would be different if tried cases had been studied exclusively. In
tried cases it can be expected that relatively more victims are secondarily injured by the
behavior of family members or representatives of the authorities.
In addition to the main causality for the injury, the victims were also asked to
judge all conversations they had had about their experience with other people (page 438).
Talks with friends, the boyfriend, siblings, teachers, psychologists, the
victim's own lawyer, specialists and the interviewers of this study were generally
experienced as pleasant and helpful. Talks with school acquaintances and parents on the
other hand, were generally rated as neutral. Closer analysis showed that some of the
parents had behaved in an injurious, others in an helpful manner. In such situations, the
parents assume an important role, as they are particularly close to the sexual victim
emotionally, as they are the conveyors of moral values and as they spend the most time
with their children. Therefore, they contributed highly to whether or not the child or
young woman was able to work through the incident with or without long-term injury.
Conversations with medical doctors and officials of the Department of Juvenile
Welfare, the police and the courts, as well as the attorney of the accused, were
experienced as mildly to very injurious.
It must be taken into consideration here that in a large proportion of the
reported sexual contacts, there was no court proceeding. The situation of the victim in
court and the effects of the proceedings on the victim require an additional analysis.
Specialists in the field of police work are becoming increasingly aware of this
problem. This can be attributed to groups which have specialized in victim assistance and
publicized these negative circumstances (page 505).
In Germany, some of these organizations are the women's movement with its Rape
Crisis Centers, Houses for Battered Women, Hotlines for Children in Trouble, and to some
extent the so-called "White Ring".
The following characteristics of injured victims as opposed to the group of
non-injured victims were determined. These variables correlated significantly with the
degree of injury (page 418):
To recapitulate, only half of the declared victims (51.8%) of indecent assault
suffered from injuries or even severe trauma. The other 48.2% had no problems in
connection with the experience. In most of these cases the sexual offense was relatively
superficial and harmless and/or the "victim" consented to the offense (page
Many experts in the field of prevention have assumed that sexual victims without
primary injuries are rare. It certainly appears that this opinion must be re-evaluated.
Adults who have the opinion that any sexual behavior is traumatic for children and young
people have to face the fact that in many cases the young person becomes a victim only
because grown-ups expect him or her to become a victim. On the basis of this expectation
they act in such a way that the child really is victimized. This behavior then has a
labeling function. It leads to the labeling of a victim (page 501).
This kind of secondary victimization can easily occur after exhibitionist and
other non-violent sexual contacts if the child comes from a family with particularly
strict sexual attitudes, or a family in which fear is created about "immoral
assaults", or a family which, out of helplessness and fear, dramatizes the
victimization. As another source of secondary victimization, members of prosecuting
authorities, like policemen and policewomen can unfortunately not be excluded (page 461).
In this study it was not possible to determine a typology of victims of indecent
assault, nor was it possible to determine a typology of the sexual offender in general
In the field of indecent assault it seems to be necessary to differentiate on
the offender's side between violent assailants and nonviolent offenders. In all
probability violent sex assailants have more in common with other groups of violent
perpetrators. In addition it could not be proved that a criminal career of the perpetrator
begins with exposing the genitals and leads to forcible rape. This result should have much
influence on preventive interventions. Up to now, many parents and educators in general
have expressed fear that an exhibitionist or fondler is a potential violent rapist or even
murderer. The contrary is true. In situations of exhibitionism and superficial fondling,
similar to doctor games, the perpetrator's behavior almost never becomes violent (page
As most of the offenses of indecent assault (no matter whether they are violent
or non-violent) are first of all interactions between two or more persons, the situation
should be analyzed as a unit. We expected to find a typology of victimizing interactions
or situations rather than a typology focused on the isolated participants. To find an
answer to this question we calculated a cluster analysis with 47 variables for each case
(page 386). Here it was found that the reported indecent assaults could be classified into
three groups (page 406):
Group I (57.1%) The numerically largest group included the
exhibitionist and comparatively harmless erotic sexual contacts with younger victims. All
the male victims were found here. In this group injury was very rare.
Group 2 (11.6%) This group included sexual contacts of a more
intensive nature. The suspects were mostly known or related to the victim; the victim's
family situation could be considered as disturbed. A part of the (only female) victims of
this cluster showed no injury at all. Another part had an injury index which fell within
the average range for the entire investigation.
Group 3 (31.3%) In this group were sexual assaults under duress,
rape and sexual contacts with highly emotional defensive behavior or attitude of the
victim. The (exclusively) female victims were older, and the suspects younger than average
and the assaults were reported immediately to the police. Victims in this cluster had the
highest indices of injury.
The typology of interactions and cases discovered differs very much from the
typology suggested by the German Penal Code (page 407). It also is in contradiction to the
commonly held ideas about indecent assault, especially as the two large groupings of cases
(the first and third) have nearly nothing to do with each other.
Any preventive, legislative, prosecuting, or victim-supporting activities should
be influenced by these findings (page 467). All of the opinions and well known bits of
advice are misleading and can injure victims secondarily or even make victims out of
persons who would not have become a victim by dramatizing situations which are not really
dangerous (page 479).
On the other hand, mixing non-violent and violent situations without any
differentiation may result in bagatellizing the really dangerous cases of brutal sexual
attacks. In this respect it is necessary to state that there is in our society a
widespread general attitude of tolerance toward violent sexual behavior There are many
opinions, attitudes, and social norms which support sexual aggressive behavior. Brutal
sexual victimization, however, mostly happens in the neighborhood, within the circle of
friends or even in the family page 249).
V. Consequences (page 467)
For the future it is urgent to pay more attention to the situation of the
exclusively female victims from group three and some of those in group two (see above).
Political, preventive and social measures to improve their situation are discovered to be
absolutely necessary (page 501).
With respect to prejudicial attitudes towards the assailant, his deed and the
sexual victim, it should be stated that there is no homogenous type of indecent assault.
Rather there are three clearly different constellations of deviant sexual interactions.
Until recently conventional opinion has confused infringements of sexual norms and violent
assaults in the sexual sphere. However, other studies have revealed that there are very
ambivalent attitudes regarding sexual violence: While there is a formal ban on sexual
violence, it is, at the same time, tacitly tolerated. Sexual violence, like other types of
violent behavior, is very common and belongs, criminologically, more to the group of
violent crimes than to the group of sexual assaults. The ambivalent attitudes of the
general population toward sexual violence may pose problems when measures are undertaken
(page 473). It is difficult to outlaw sexual violence effectively if at the same time
violent behavior is tolerated in the society at large. These problems fall basically in
the fields of sociology and politics and can only be effectively solved if tackled as a
whole. The results of this survey suggest that the situation of the victims of violent and
indecent assaults should be improved by applying suitable short- and medium-term measures.
The different institutions which professionally deal with the problems of sexual
victims should cooperate more effectively. In the Federal Republic of Germany many
officials responsible for victims still do not know that there are many organizations in
most German cities which partially or fully deal with crisis intervention. There are for
instance capable institutions for psychotherapy; there is a widespread organization,
called "pro familia" which gives advice in cases of sexual problems (especially
birth control); there are rape crisis centers in larger cities with their telephone
hotlines ("Notrufe für vergewaltigte Frauen") and houses for battered women
("Frauenhäuser"); there are hotlines for children and youth
("Sorgentelefon"). In nearly every town there is a day and night hotline for
acute problems ("Telefonseelsorge"). During the last few years a private
organization, the "White Ring", has developed and specialized in granting
financial aid to victims of criminality. In addition to that there is a special federal
law which guarantees financial aid to victims of violent offenses.
However, the victim in need and the experts in the field are usually not aware
of the existence of appropriate institutions for the different problems. There is not
enough cooperation and exchange of information. We still need to learn a lot from the
various American victim assistance programs.
If victim assistance programs are initiated, care should be taken not to treat
the victim as a sick person. Labeling the victim as mentally ill is another form of
structural victimization The aim of victim assistance programs should be the reintegration
of the victim into her or his social environment, which is just as necessary as the social
reintegration of the offender. This reintegration should lead to regaining or
strengthening the victim's self-confidence. For the purpose of effectiveness victim
assistance programs must be linked with an information service aimed at informing the
public about how structural victimization causes individual victimization.
In the Federal Republic of Germany there is still a strong need for developing
and organizing training programs for professionals and volunteers as well as strengthening
the organization of assistance programs for victims. The current problems in this field in
the Federal Republic are as follows:
(a) The phenomenon of sexual violence should be subjected to further empirical
analysis. We would welcome a psychological and sociological analysis of structural
victimization and a victimological analysis of the situation surrounding sexual violence,
i.e., how the situation develops, between offender and victim, shortly before the offense
(b) The public must be informed about the problems and background of sexual
(c) Police officials who deal with sexual victims must establish contact with
women working in victim assistance programs in order to obtain feed-back concerning their
work and promote an exchange of ideas.
(d) There is a strong need to develop in-service training programs for the
officials named under (c).
(e) Cooperation between the different responsible institutions and Advisory
Boards should be improved in the interest of the victims.
(f) Victims who are in crisis should be provided with solid information about
several institutions they can trust.
(g) The present survey should be extended to study the effects of court
procedures upon the victims.
(h) While discussing the laws dealing with sexual offenses, the objective and scientific ways of argumentation should be clearly separated from emotional and/or moral opinions.
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