The survey of just under 4,500 women was commissioned by Amnesty International. It was designed to shed light on the real size of the problem of sexual violence and sexual harassment in Switzerland given that many cases go unreported.
The study found that 22 percent of women had been sexually assaulted. In addition, one in eight women (12 percent) said they had been forced to have sex against their will.
However, while 51 percent of women said they had told a friend about their sexual assault, only 11 percent had contacted sexual assault victim services and just 10 percent had gone to the police.
In terms of why they hadn’t gone to the police, around one in three women (64 percent) said they felt ashamed and 62 percent responded to say they felt it wasn’t worth it.
At the same time, 58 percent of women said they were afraid police wouldn’t believe them and just over half of all women surveyed (51 percent) said they weren’t sure they even had the right to go the police.
“The results of this survey are shocking. They reveal that the cases reported in police statistics are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Manon Schick, the director of Amnesty International Switzerland.
Police figures show that there were 626 rape convictions in Switzerland in 2018. But this number has to be put into context.
“Switzerland’s sexual violence legislation is obsolete and needs fundamental reforms,” said legal expert Nora Scheidegger.
She noted that under Swiss law, for rape to have taken place, there must have been coercion and this means women are indirectly required to have defended themselves.
But Scheidegger said this was “highly problematic” as paralysis and a state of shock are common reactions to sexual assault.
Amnesty International argues that Swiss legislation contravenes international norms such as those spelled out in the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, which calls for all non-consensual sexual acts to be criminalized.
Switzerland is a signatory to the Istanbul Convention.
One in three women sexually harassed in the workplace
The Amnesty International survey also found high rates of sexual harassment in Switzerland, with 59 percent of women saying they had experienced unwelcome touching, hugging and kissing.
In addition, 56 percent of women said they had been offended by sexually suggestive comments or jokes, while 33 percent of women said they had received unwanted messages online.
Most of this sexual harassment takes place in the public sphere, the research found. A total of 56 percent said they had been harassed on the street and 46 percent said this had happened on public transport. One in three women said they had been sexually harassed at work.