A new study from the University of British Columbia has found the vast majority of sex offences against young girls are committed by men much older than them, and usually by members of their family.
The researchers behind the study say it deflates the myth that statutory rape laws are frequently used to prosecute girls’ boyfriends when there is a small age gap between the parties.
The study, which was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law was conducted by UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law.
“These were not young boyfriends engaging in sex where girls agreed to participate,” said Prof. Isabel Grant, who co-authored the study with Prof. Janine Benedet.
“These were cases of devastating abuse by male adults in positions of trust, and family members in particular.”
In fact, the study found the average age of accused abusers was 19 years older than their alleged victims.
Researchers looked at 680 written decisions from every Canadian province and territory, between the years 2014 and 2016, involving complainants between the ages of 12 and 17 years old.
That data included 625 female complainants and 518 accused persons — all but six of whom turned out to be men.
Researchers did not include cases with jury trials or guilty pleas unless they included reasons for sentence.
The study found that just five per cent of cases involved an accused person described as a boyfriend, and just four per cent by a stranger.
“The family is an institution of enormous power, and the opportunity for abuse of that power — for enforcing secrecy — is really stark,” said Benedet.
“The barriers to coming forward in the family context are very high. So we think that deserves more attention than it’s currently getting.”
In fact, the study found that nearly half (46 per cent) of cases involved reported assault by a family member or step-family member.
It also found the average age at which sexual abuse began was 12.7 years, but that many girls said it had begun when they were young children.
Even when family members were excluded, the study found the average age of accused abusers was 16 years older than the girls in question.