New research explores the history of sexual abuse trends in New Zealand

Tue 19 Jan 2021

A century of sexual abuse of women in New Zealand has been analysed in a University of Auckland study

A century of sexual abuse victimisation: A birth cohort analysis (2021), authored by University of Auckland researchers Janet Fanslow, Ladan Hashemi, Pauline Gulliver and Tracey McIntosh, has found that one in six New Zealand women experience sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime. This rate has not changed since 1938. Their research also found that rates of child sexual abuse and non-partner sexual assault seem to have declined slightly but are still high at 1 in 5 for child sexual abuse and 1 in 14 for non-partner sexual assault.

"The lack of change for the lifetime prevalence of sexual IPV (1 in 6) over the past century highlights the need for prevention efforts to be comprehensively implemented and enhanced. Our findings that the prevalence of two other forms of sexual abuse (i.e. lifetime non-partner, and 12-month intimate-partner sexual abuse) were also lowest for the most recent birth cohorts is encouraging, as it indicates that change is possible. However, despite signs of declining rates of CSA [child sexual abuse] for more recent birth cohorts, the overall rates of sexual abuse reported still warrant urgent attention."

The research used data from a 2003 New Zealand Violence Against Women study* of 2,855 women in Auckland and the Waikato and a 2019 New Zealand Family Violence study** that included 1464 women in Auckland, Northland and the Waikato. The women were asked questions about their experiences of sexual abuse.

The researchers also looked at how the social and political context over a century may have influenced the prevalence rates. They created a timeline of events, policies, social change and social movements, policy shifts and service delivery that may have influenced the reported prevalence of sexual abuse. 

In their conclusion the authors highlight national calls for efforts in prevention, saying these "have not yet been answered."

“As men are the primary perpetrators of violence against women, and particularly of sexual abuse, prevention efforts need to engage men and boys. Internationally, there is evidence of the effectiveness of these prevention strategies, if properly funded, and implemented widely.”

In a media statement, lead researcher and New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse Co-Director Janet Fanslow said the research demonstrated the “need for prevention efforts involving men to be comprehensively implemented and enhanced.”

More information about the 2019 New Zealand Family Violence Study is available in the article Methods for the 2019 New Zealand family violence study- a study on the association between violence exposure, health and well-being (2021). Additional research outcomes from the NZ Family Violence Study are expected to be published in future journal articles.

*The 2003 research was funded by the Health Research Council (HRC).

**The 2019 research was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Related news

The Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence Briefing to the Incoming Minister (2021) noted that less than 1.9% of the government's expenditure on family violence and sexual violence in 2018/19 was for primary prevention.

The Ministry of Justice published infographics on the Experience of Crime by Sexual Orientation (2021) using data from the Ministry of Justice New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey (NZCVS). It highlights that LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) adults are more than twice as likely to experience intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. See the Ministry of Justice media release for more information.

Related media


'Failed by the system': Indecent assault victim hits out after offenders avoid conviction, NZ Herald, 26.07.2021

Claims that sexual violence bill will harm Māori are unfounded, Stuff, 01.07.2021

Sexual violence study prompts call for consent education for men, boys, RNZ, 15.01.2021

He'll Be Right: How to be a modern man, Stuff Podcast

He'll Be Right: There is no ‘essence of man’ – masculinity's a contradictory mess, Stuff, 23.01.2021

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