Violence against women

Half of reported sexual crimes are against minors

In the last five years 269 cases of abuses and multiple assault have been reported to police in Catalonia

4 min
Protest in the Santo Jaume square in Barcelona against the multiple rape of the Mandada.

BarcelonaIn the last decade the number of cases of sexual abuse and attacks reported to the police has increased continuously in Catalonia, although 2020 was an exception. The pandemic also meant a decrease in the cases of sexual violence that reach the police: they fell by over than 15% in a year in which all crimes plummeted. But as we put the pandemic behind us, reports of sexual abuse and assault have returned to 2019 levels, when they reached an all-time high. In the first nine months of this year – until September – the Catalan police have opened the same number of investigations as in all of 2020: 1,451 for sexual abuse, more than five a day on average, and 804 for assaults, almost three a day.

The victims' age has also changed. The data provided by the Department of Home Affairs shows that in the first half of this year about half of the sexual crimes reported were against minors (48.5%): 20.9% correspond to girls aged 0 to 12 years and 27.6% to teenagers aged 13 to 17. The figures include all sexual crimes by men against women, i.e. abuse, assault and harassment, among other behaviours. It is the first time since 2019, when data was split more clearly into age groups, that the percentage of underage victims is close to half of the total: in 2019 they accounted for 43.3% and in 2020, the year affected by covid, 36.1%. The four-point increase in victims under 12 stands out.

What caused this increase? Antonio Andrés Pueyo, professor of psychology at the UB and member of the Prevensi team, dedicated to preventing child abuse, points out that sexual crimes include those committed through social networks, "which affect this age group in a specific way". He also says that we must take into account that sexual consent in minors was raised to 16. The lawyer specialising in male violence Júlia Humet, of Nèmesi Advocades, adds that the various professionals who deal with minors, such as doctors, teachers or psychologists, have "the obligation to report" to the police if they know they have suffered a sexual crime.

Graph of sexual crimes in Catalonia

Pilar Polo, from the Fundació Vicky Bernadet, which seeks to prevent child abuse and assist its victims, assures that children, who are "the most vulnerable", have emerged from the pandemic "with a great desire to talk". Polo, who works with schools and organisations that deal with minors, explains that in 2019 she saw 35 cases and in 2020 she saw 60: in September, when students went back to school six months later, there was a "spectacular" increase. This year, with a month and a half left, there have already been 125. Barcelona's Hospital Clínic, which treats victims of sexual violence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, noticed an increase in the numbre of minors raped after the end of lockdown.

It is not easy to know what happened in 2020, the only year in which, according to the administration's figures, the upward trend in reports of sexual crimes was broken. "The changes in the official data correspond to what is known, but not to reality, because no one knows," Pueyo states. The psychologist and criminologist Marian Martinez explains that last year, due to lockdown, there were fewer situations of leisure or in public space in which aggressors and victims could coincide. Humet makes it extensible to other aggressors who are not family members. The Ministry of Home Affairs this week published a report that shows that in 2020, especially in April, when the first lockdown was in place, complaints of sexual crimes plummeted, which are not uniform throughout the year. Cases tend to increase from May to October.

The psychology professor points out that teenagers have gone through stressful situations and conflicts due to the isolation caused by covid. This he says are "risk factors" that lead to "anti-normative" behaviour, because for a time "relationships have not been able to be normalised".

The ministry's report, which also says that 85% of victims of sexual offences are female, lists the number of sexual abuse and assaults with more than one perpetrator. In the last five years, between 2016 and 2020, there have been at least 269 episodes of sexual violence committed by two or more male aggressors in Catalonia: 114 cases of abuse and 155 cases of multiple assault. There is, on average, a complaint every 16 days for group sexual abuse and almost every 12 days for assault. Despite this large number and high profile cases such as the 16-year-old raped and beaten until she was unconscious in Igualada, Pueyo says that the most serious assaults remain "stable".

Unreported cases

Beyond the official data, the real number may be significantly higher due to unreported cases. According to the latest victimisation survey on male violence published in Catalonia, which the Generalitat made in 2016, one in four women explains that she has suffered at least one particularly serious crime throughout her life, such as rape or attempted rape, violent groping, violent physical aggression or serious threats. Taking into account that between 2012 and 2019 the complaints to the Mossos for sexual abuse have increased by 159% and for assaults by 60%, Martinez reflects: "Every year we are getting closer to reality".

According to the criminologist, the increase has coincided with greater "awareness" that certain actions can be reported to the police and with more specialized resources to assist victims. Humet also thinks that "more and more is being reported", which is why he dissociates the upward trend with the fact that there is more sexual violence. The psychologist Violeta García, of the Association of Assistance to Sexually Assaulted Women (AADAS), also believes an increase in reported assaults may not mean an increase in assaults.

Nevertheless, Garcia believes that sexual assault made by persons known to the victim, which make up most cases, are still underreported. The psychologist adds that if the victims are minors, the family usually intervenes to report it, but if they are adults "it is more likely that there is no one to report it for them", which is why she believes that sexual violence in minors is not as underreported. That is why she trusts that they will "lose the fear" of reporting at all ages. From the Vicky Bernadet Foundation, Polo hopes that sexual crimes in some areas, such as sport, which hold "power and prestige", will become more visible.

Investigation into Igualada rape continues

The Catalan Police's Central Unit of Sexual Assault (UCAS) is continuing its investigation into the rape in Igualada. The girl suffered a brutal assault on the morning of November 1 after leaving Èpic nightclub, located on an industrial estate. A haulier found the minor in the early morning with serious injuries. So far no arrests have been made in this case, which has been taken on by UCAS, which was set up just over a year ago and investigates cases of unidentified assailants, serial or repeat offenders and multiple rapes.

In addition, UCAS also seeks to avoid re-victimisation and adapt to victims' needs, such as collecting complaints when they are able to explain a story that is hard and traumatic.