National study reports on students' experiences of unwanted sexual contact; related resources

Wed 24 Aug 2016

A new report from the Adolescent Health Research Group based on the Youth '12 survey documents that 15% of secondary students reported having ...

A new report from the Adolescent Health Research Group based on the Youth '12 survey documents that 15% of secondary students reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact.

Youth’12 is the third Youth2000 national survey of the health and wellbeing of 8500 secondary school students in Aotearoa New Zealand. This recent report, Sexual and reproductive health and sexual violence among New Zealand secondary school students, presents findings in three areas:

  • Experience of unwanted sexual contact
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Ethnic specific information for Māori and Pacific students
The full report was contracted by ACC and the Ministry for Health. ACC also worked with Synergia to produce an accessible summary of the key findings, which includes infographics.

Key findings from the full report include:

  • 15% of all students reported an experience of unwanted sexual contact; this was higher for Māori (18%) and Pacific (22%) students 
  • Female students were more than twice as likely to experience unwanted sexual contact than male students
  • Most commonly, it was a boyfriend/girlfriend or a friend who forced an unwanted sexual experience
  • Students were over 8 times more likely to experience unwanted sexual contact perpetrated by someone they knew rather than a stranger
  • Over half (55%) experienced the unwanted sexual contact when they were 14 years or younger
  • Nearly three-quarters of male students and just over half of female stduents never told anyone
  • A small proportion (3%) reported that they had forced someone else to do sexual things; males were twice as likely to report this
  • 15% of students had been sent unwanted sexually explicit material in the last 12 months; Māori students, Pacific students, same/both-sex attracted students and students from high deprivation neighbourhoods were more likely to be sent unwanted material
  • Students who were sent unwanted sexually explicit materials were 3 times more likely to report unwanted sexual contact and 4 times more likely to report forcing someone else to do sexual things 
Young people who experience unwanted sexual contact have a range of poorer outcomes including:
  • Poorer mental, sexual and reproductive health
  • Higher rates of substance use
  • Witnessing family and interpersonal violence
  • Poorer family relationships
  • Not feeling safe at school
  • Seeing a health professional for emotional health concerns
  • Limited access to needed healthcare; living in overcrowded homes; and moving home more frequently. 
“This level of unwanted sexual contact is unacceptably high,” said lead researcher Dr Terryann Clark from the University of Auckland’s Adolescent Health Research Group (AHRG). Dr Clark also raised concerns about the high number of students who never report the unwanted contact “It is unacceptable that young people still fear judgements and blame - to be seen as ‘asking for it’, and a whole host of unwanted assumptions that pervade the current rape culture. It is no wonder they don’t tell and get the support they need."

See additional findings from the survey in the previous NZFVC story, First results from Youth '12 survey released.


The Adolescent Health Research Group published a report about the health and wellbeing of Pacific young people from the Youth '12 survey data in September 2016. While the study findings show improvement in some areas of wellbeing, Pacific students are still more likely to experience family violence and sexual abuse or coercion than Pakeha students. See the media stories at the end for commentary from the study authors.

Related resources

A new website, Em (, was recently launched to support young women experiencing sexual harm by Auckland HELP and Curative. Auckland HELP has also supported the Government’s announcement that it will launch online counselling for survivors of sexual assault as part of their plan for a 24/7 crisis response, as being particularly helpful for young people.

Additional research and resources on teen dating violence and sexual violence against young people

The New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse has previously compiled resources on promoting healthy relationships for young people including resources on teen dating violence, consent and promoting healthy relationships. 

Aotearoa New Zealand research

Moana Eruera's PhD thesis explores what taitamariki Māori need to develop healthy intimate partner relationships. This has recently been made available online: 'Hooked up': te hononga whaiāipo: reducing and preventing violence in taitamariki Māori intimate partner relationships (2015). This project sought to understand taitamariki Māori perspectives on intimate partner relationships and violence, in order to co-construct an indigenous youth theory of change to inform Māori and indigenous violence prevention activities.

The research built on a previous report commissioned by Amokura Family Violence Prevention Consortium, Taitamariki Māori kōrero about intimate partner relationships (Eruera and Dobbs, 2010), which explored how existing intimate partner violence research fits with taitamariki Māori knowledge and experiences.

Researchers Alice Towns and Hazel Scott, with funding from ACC, interviewed young men and women about their beliefs and experiences of controlling behaviours, ownership in relationships and masculinity. See the following publications: 

Researchers David Mayeda and Raagini Vijaykumar interviewed young women and adolescent girls of Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds about how they experience and understand intimate partner violence. Findings and recommendations from the research were published in Intersections of culture, migration and intimate partner violence as told by migrant youth (2015) and Developing intimate partner violence intervention services for youth from migrant communities of colour: A technical report for Shakti Community Council, Inc. (2015).

HELP (Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation) and Tu Wahine Trust commissioned research on the needs of young people affected by sexual abuse or assault for the report Breaking the silence but keeping secrets: what young people want to address sexual violence (2013). The researchers interviewed both professionals and young people including rangatahi Māori and tauiwi (non Māori).

Researchers have also interviewed young people about rape culture and their exposure and responses to it on social media: Rape culture and social media: young critics and a feminist counterpublic (Sills, Pickens, Beach, Jones, Calder-Dawe, Benton-Greig and Gavey, 2016).

International resources

A number of online resource collections addressing teen dating violence are available from the US. The CDC's Featured Topic: Teen Dating Violence provides an overview of what teen dating violence is followed by a list of resources focused on prevention. VAWnet provides a detailed list of online resources in their Special Collection: Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in the US occurs in February each year. Several organisations provide information to address to teen dating violence, including, the Domestic Violence Awareness Project and Futures without Violence.

Select media

Report calls for more support for Pacific youth, NewstalkZB, 22.09.2016

Struggles continue for Pasifika youth, NZ Herald, 22.09.2016

NZ's Pacific youth continue to struggle, Radio NZ, 22.09.2016

Sex mis-education: How can we better teach young people about sex and relationships?, Stuff, 25.08.2016

Sex mis-education: How technology is changing sexual behaviour, Stuff, 25.08.2016

Sex mis-education: From Ettie Rout to The Bachelor, the events that shape our attitudes towards sex, Stuff, 25.08.2016

Youth 2000 survey finds nearly 15 per cent of high schoolers sent unwanted sex pics, Stuff, 15.08.2016

Secondary students report unwanted sexual contact, Press release: University Auckland, Scoop, 10.08.2016

Police advisor discredits 'stranger danger', Radio NZ, 09.08.2016

Image: Pixabay