Shedding light on the true number of cases of sexual violence

2 min
Protest against the violation of the Mandada to the Plaza de Santo Jaume in Barcelona

Until a few years ago, society – and therefore also the media – sought to hide sexual violence. Rape and abuse at school or within the family were a shame for the victim and her environment and were not made public. This has been changing. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, more and more victims are daring to speak out, to explain what they have experienced – even if it is many years after the events – and this helps to make people understand the seriousness of a social problem that has been buried for too many years. We journalists have followed them in this process, making our mistakes along the way, but moving forward.

Because knowing and making known the reality of sexual violence is essential to confronting it. But this doesn't mean that we have to explain all the gory details, which will only cause revictimisation. But knowing, for example, that between 2016 and 2020, 269 cases of sexual abuse and sexual assaults committed by two or more men were reported in Catalonia helps us to understand to what extent the case of La Manada was not a distant exception.

Lockdown and the hardest stage of the pandemic caused an apparent respite, yet gender violence has not taken long to resuface. The savage gang rape and beating of a teenager in Igualada is only one of the most recent cases. In the first nine months of the year the Catalan police have received as many complaints of abuse (1,451) and sexual assault (804) as in 2020. The complaints for sexual crimes have returned to 2019 levels, when more cases were reported than ever before.

We cannot say for sure that crimes are increasing: there is more awareness, fewer obstacles to victims who dare to take their case to the police or the courts. This may lead one to think that the number of reports is increasing and not the number of crimes. But precisely the large amount of rape, abuse and harassment that we know is not reported distorts our perception of reality. We must find out the extent of underreporting of sexual offences in order to address the issue in all its complexity. And to achieve this we need to collect data, help victims, give them a voice – as long as they want to be heard – and speak out, without hiding the harshness of this reality, but with sensitivity and empathy.

Having the right data and analysing it helps us, for example, to discover that two years ago 43.3% of the victims of sexual crimes were under 18. In 2021, that percentage has risen to 48.5%. And it is precisely among the most vulnerable that the sharpest increase took place: the percentage of complaints regarding girls under 12 has increased four points and has reached 20.9%. The numbers are only a cold approximation to the harshness of sexual violence, especially in terms of the most vulnerable, but they make us ask ourselves questions, such as why there has been this increase in younger victims. Questions that are the first step to get to the root of a problem that challenges us all, but especially men.