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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). 


I. Preliminary remarks

II. Purpose of the longitudinal study

III. Methods of the study

IV. Results and discussion

V. Consequences

1. Differentiation
2. De-dramatization and elucidation
3. Informing target groups
4. Coordination

J. Summary

I. Preliminary remarks

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 lives:

when, within the framework of an incorrectly understood sexual education, children at home and at school become frightened,

when sexual crimes are publicly reported in a dramatizing manner (page 479),

when sexual norms are discussed ethically and politically (page 54),

when people who deviate to a greater or lesser extent from the norms are subjected to psychological or medical treatment,

when sexual victims experience lack of sympathy from their environment (page 501).

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.

II. Purpose of the longitudinal study

The main questions posed in this survey were (pages 54, 84 and 137):

  1. In which societal groups is the danger of becoming a sexual victim most pronounced?

  2. What kind of sexual offenses are actually reported to the police? What role does use of force or violence play?

  3. Is there a single type of sexual offense or are there different typical constellations?

  4. What led up to the actual sexual activity? What did the suspect do? How did the victim act? Where did the sexual contact take place?

  5. How does the victim view the reported sexual contact years after the charge was made?

  6. What was the situation like for the victim? How did the environment react? How did the representatives of the authorities act?

  7. How many of the victims feel violated or injured? In which cases does psychological injury occur?

  8. In the opinion of the victim what causes psychological injury, if it occurs? Is the so-called primary injury triggered by the criminal act itself, or so-called secondary injury, which occurs on the victim later, as a result of the negative influences of the environment and the representatives of the authorities?

  9. Is it possible to determine a typology of victims or of perpetrators or is there rather a typology of interactions between the two persons?

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:

  1. a biographical inventory ("MBI" or "BIV", depending on the age of the subject) to measure outstanding behavior patterns,

  2. a personality inventory ("FPI"), which is a German version of the combination of MMPI, MPI, EPI and 16PF,

  3. a scale measuring anxiety ("AFS - MA"), which is based on the American CMAS and TASC, and

  4. a special inventory measuring neuroticism and extroversion ("EPI" or, depending on age, "HANES").

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 218):

(§ 183 German Penal Code) ......................... 23.9%

Sexual assault on children (child molesting)
(§ 176 German Penal Code) ......................... 35.5

Forcible rape (§ 177 German Penal Code) and
Sexual assault under duress
(§ 178 German Penal Code) ......................... 22.2

Other ............................................................18.4
Total .......................................................... 100.0%

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):

The injured victims were all female (page 430).

The injured victims were significantly older than the non-injured (p

Because the injured victims on the average were older they tended to have had more sexual information (p = 0.045) (page 454) and more sexual experience before the offense (p<0.05) (page 448).

The injured victims had not started dating at an earlier age than the non-injured (page 448).

Injured victims often had been brought up with relatively strict regulations concerning going out in the evening (p = 0.035) (page 448).

Injury was associated with violent or threatening behavior of the assailants (p = 0.0003; CC = 0.47) (page 422) and defensive behavior or attitude of the victims (p = 0.0016) (page 420).

Most of the sexual contacts which resulted in injury to the victims were of an intensive nature, such as sexual intercourse (p = 0.001; CC = 0.43) (page 436).

Most of the injured victims went directly to the police to declare their victimization (p = 0.028). They often reported the offense themselves and had more conversations about the attack (p = 0.004) than non-injured persons (page 446).

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 459).

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 (page 406).

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 299).

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.

  1. Differentiation

    To change the public attitude, the three main phenomena of deviant sexual behavior should be clearly differentiated from one another. These are:

    - Exposure of the genitals,

    - Relatively superficial, non-violent erotic and sexual practices, and

    - Sexual violence and duress.

  2. De-dramatization and elucidation

    Objective and unbiased information about the phenomenology of indecent assaults and their after-effects would reduce dramatization in case groups (1) and (2) and elucidate the violent character of the other assaults in group (3). Especially for the protection of potential victims it is necessary to differentiate between disagreeable or undesirable sexual molestation or menacing and brutal sexual attacks. In addition it should be made clear that generally speaking nearly no criminal career starts with exposure of the genitals and leads up to forcible rape and murder. The present survey reveals that -- contrary to the German Penal Code -- the situation of forcible rape has much in common with other violent offenses and that recidivism of any violent assailant can be expected more often in offenses like forcible rape and sexual duress than in exhibitionism and fondling. If non-violent child molesters and exhibitionists relapse, the probability is high that they will resort to their previous form of deviant behavior. It is improbable that a relapsed exhibitionist will display violent sexual behavior. These results should have a strong influence on prevention programs, prosecuting strategies and victim assistance programs. The police can work more effectively and should cooperate on a more friendly basis with the victim if these results are taken into consideration in day-to-day work.

  3. Informing target groups (page 508)

    The objective description of the phenomenology of punishable sexual contacts, their causes and consequences should influence the following areas:

    (a) The in-service training of officials responsible for victims should be improved.

    (b) When asked, specially qualified police officials should inform groups of teachers and educators.

    (c) Parents and professional educators should be fully informed and given opportunities for further training in the field of sexual education. The problems of sexual deviation should be integrated into modern sexual education.

    (d) The results of the present survey should be widely publicized so as to influence public opinion.

    (e) Corresponding laws in the Penal Code should be subjected to unbiased evaluation.

  4. Coordination

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 occurs.

(b) The public must be informed about the problems and background of sexual violence.

(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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