Report details extent of child sexual abuse

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In China, 223 cases of sexual assault against children (under 18 years old) involving 569 victims — the youngest being just two years old — were reported by the media in 2021, according to the Investigation Report on Child Sexual Assault Statistics and Sexual Assault Prevention Education report released by Girls’ Protection.

The Girls’ Protection Project was launched in 2013 by hundreds of female journalists from all over the country, in cooperation with publications including Beijing Times, People’s Daily, China Youth Daily, and China Youth Public Welfare Channel. Initially established under the Children’s Safety Fund of the China Social Assistance Foundation, the project was turned into a special “protection” fund in 2015, aiming to raise awareness and protect children, especially girls, from sexual abuse.

Girls’ Protection has been releasing the annual report for the past nine years: there were 125, 503, 340, 433, 378, 317, 301, and 332 cases of child sexual abuse reported by the media each year from 2013 to 2020 (child was defined as “under the age of 14” from 2013 to 2017, with the definition changing to “under 18” in 2018).

Over 70 percent of victims under the age of 14; proportion of boys who have experienced sexual assault increased

According to the 2021 report, 203 among the 223 cases were girls, accounting for 91 percent, and 17 were boys, accounting for 7.6 percent. In three cases, victims included both girls and boys. In terms of the number of victims, among the 569 cases, 462 (81.2 percent) involved girls while 107 (18.8 percent) were boys. The proportion of boys falling victim to sexual assault increased compared to the report from the past few years.

Among the 223 cases, 157 indicated the age of the victims, and 66 mentioned words like “minor”, “young girl” and “child”. Among the 157 cases, 119 were under the age of 14, accounting for 75.8 percent; 38 were between 14 and 18 years old, accounting for 24.2 percent. Victims in 127 cases were in the elementary and middle school age group, accounting for 80.9 percent, 55 of which were between seven and 12.

According to Girls’ Protection, 194 of the 223 cases indicated the age of the perpetrator. Five cases involved perpetrators under the age of 18, and two of them were gang rape cases. Fourteen cases involved abusers over 60 years old. The youngest perpetrator was only 12 and the oldest was 89.

Over 80 percent of sexual assaults were committed by acquaintances

Among the 198 cases, acquaintances committed 160 crimes, accounting for 80.8 percent, while strangers committed 38 crimes, accounting for 19.2 percent. The proportion of acquaintances committing crimes has always been high, according to reports released by Girls’ Protection in recent years, with the highest reaching 87.87 percent in 2014. This aligns with data released by courts and procuratorates at all levels in recent years.

Among the 160 cases carried out by an acquaintance, 44 were committed by teachers and staff, 28 were committed by relatives, 20 by friends made online, and 15 by neighbors and others. The proportion of abuse carried out by people employed as security guards, relatives of kindergarten leaders, and delivery workers has increased significantly compared to previous years.

With many children now owning their own cell phone, sexual offences carried out over the internet have become more common, with 17 cases recorded.

Nearly half are repeat offenders; cases likely under-reported in rural areas

Girls’ Protection found that 105 of the 223 cases were committed by repeat offenders, including both multiple sexual assaults on the same child victim and multiple sexual assaults on multiple children. The report found, in the absence of external intervention, abusers will rarely stop offending – often continuing assaults for three years or longer, especially in cases where the perpetrator is an acquaintance.

In terms of the regional distribution of cases exposed by the media in previous years, the proportion of cases in urban areas has generally been higher than in rural areas, but Girls’ Protection emphasized that this does not necessarily mean that sexual assault is more common in urban areas than in rural areas. Instead, it shows that children in urban areas are more intensively supervised by families and schools.

Judging from the cases exposed in recent years, child sexual abuse cases in rural areas often take place over a longer period of time and involve multiple victims. Therefore, it is imperative to increase education and improve awareness.