Half of women 'have suffered sexual assault by a partner while asleep'

29 April 2021, 07:15 | Updated: 29 April 2021, 08:49

Study shows 50% of women woken up to partners performing sex act on them

Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Half of adult women say they’ve woken up to a partner sexually assaulting them while they’re asleep, according to a new report.

One in two women have been raped or sexually assaulted by a partner in their sleep - according to research by the group Victim Focus.

They surveyed more than 22,000 women earlier this year, and found that 51% of respondents said they had "woken up to their male partner having sex with them or performing sex acts on them whilst they are asleep."

27% said it had happened to them multiple times.

The work was authored by Jaimi Shrive and Dr Jessica Taylor. Dr Taylor told LBC she was shocked by the findings:

"I thought it would be high, so i.e. 20 to 30%, but one in two?!

"Obviously that raises a massive question, why are men doing anything to sleeping women?

"[...] Legally that's rape, and to perform a sex act on someone is sexual assault.

"You can't consent, because you're not awake.

"So nobody should be doing anything to you when you're asleep."

Dr Taylor says she received lots of angry or confused messages from both men and women, when this scenario was included in a previous study a few years ago.

That included men who were furious at the inference they were a sex offender, and women admitting it's something that had happened a lot, which they didn't like, but had never really questioned.

"These are sexual assaults and rapes"

When asked why she thought it is so prevalent, Dr Taylor said:

"The most obvious thing would be power and control, it's a sense of entitlement.

"They're in a relationship with you. They've been in that relationship for a long time. You're asleep. They want it. So they take it."

She says the prevalence of this sort of scenario in violent pornography might also be a factor.

The study also found that out of the sample of 22,419 women, 99.7% had been repeatedly subjected to violence including assaults, harassment and rape.

But, not even 2 in 10 would report physical crimes to the police , and less than 1 in 10 had reported sexual crimes.

'If you're asleep, you're incapable of giving consent'

Samantha (not her real name) told me that her partner did this weekly for years.

"I remember his wallpaper and staring at it, if I was pretending to be asleep, I would just focus on the shapes.

"Or I would think about, 'what's my best exit from this?'

"Without 'waking up' try to make my body language it clear that this wasn't something I wanted.

"I understood that it wasn't ok, but in my brain I couldn't connect the fact that this was sexual assault, or in some cases rape.

If she tried to raise it with him, and say she didn't consent, he'd get defensive, even accusing her of "making him feel like a rapist."

If you have been affected by rape or sexual abuse, you can get specialist, confidential support from Rape Crisis helplines.