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New global health study scores New Zealand in lowest percentile for child sexual abuse

September 28, 2017 at 4:50 PM

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*

A study comparing global progress on achieving the United Nations' health-related Sustainable Development Goals has scored New Zealand in the lowest percentile for rates of child sexual abuse.

The study also scored countries on intimate partner violence and the prevalence of physical or sexual violence.

In September 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There are two goals relevant to violence and abuse:

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Specific targets and indicators developed in relation to these goals are available at the links above.

The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2016 (GBD 2016) provides an "updated and expanded evidence base on where the world currently stands in terms of the health-related SDGs."

A report on GBD 2016 and the Sustainable Development Goals has been published in The Lancet: Measuring progress and projecting attainment on the basis of past trends of the health-related Sustainable Development Goals in 188 countries: an analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 (GBD 2016 SDG Collaborators, 2017).

The article reports on 37 of the 50 health-related SDG indicators for 188 countries, over the period 1990–2016.

The GBD 2016 study includes three indicators of violence:

  • prevalence of intimate partner violence (see SDG indicator 5.2.1)
  • prevalence of physical or sexual violence (see SDG indicator 16.1.3) 
  • prevalence of childhood sexual abuse (see SDG indicator 16.2.3)

New Zealand received index scores of:

  • 2 for prevalence of childhood sexual abuse
  • 73 for prevalence of physical or sexual violence
  • 92 for prevalence of intimate partner violence

The study drew on a large number of data sources including relevant national health surveys and violence-specific surveys.

The Lancet article comments on some of the challenges in measuring violence:

"Our assessment reflects ongoing gaps in data availability and coverage across countries for some indicators and remains a major limitation to any SDG monitoring effort, including GBD. For example, data for the violence indicators are sparse, particularly for non-intimate partner violence, men as victims of sexual violence, and psychological violence. Measurement issues, such as the variability and accuracy of self-report of different types of violence across settings, pose additional challenges."

Speaking to media outlet Stuff, Associate Professor Janet Fanslow from the University of Auckland said New Zealand's score on child sexual abuse was not surprising, as legislation and policies around sexual violence and child protection lacked prevention measures and wrongly treated sexual abuse as a problem affecting only a small number of people. She said,

"If you regard it [sexual predation] as the isolated behaviour of a few criminals or people with problematic behaviour, you're missing the fact that this affects a sizeable proportion of the population. If you think about it as a population problem, then we need to ask some bigger questions about what we tell people about sex, healthy relationships and power."

She also criticised the Child Sex Offender Register and the failure to keep children who have been exposed to violence with their non-abusive parent, often not pursued under current legislation around vulnerable children.

Dr Fanslow also said:

"With [better] policy comes investment and the priority that we place on the programmes that flow out to education or community based prevention strategies ... We can fix this."

New Zealand received an overall index score of 71, ranking 32nd out of the 188 countries.

Related information

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) provides an online interactive Sustainable Development Goals visualization tool. UN Women has recently published a spotlight on global progress towards this goal. The document uses infographics and includes information on intimate partner violence, harmful practices, gender data gaps and more.

See the NZFVC data summaries 2017 and Statistics page for more detailed New Zealand statistics.


NZ’s Child Sex Crimes Ranking Demands Urgent Response, Media release: Stop Demand, Scoop, 20.09.2017

Child sex abuse, overweight children drag down New Zealand's health ranking, Stuff, 19.09.2017

Category: Research