A new study has shown that one in four women in New Zealand are sexually abused as children.
The study, by the University of Auckland, revealed that 23 per cent of Kiwi women in urban areas and 28 per cent in rural areas experienced some form of sexual abuse when under 15 years old.
The researchers also found that around half of the women had experienced the abuse on more than one occasion and in most cases, one perpetrator was involved, generally a male family member.
According to the team, the average age of the victim at the start of the abuse was nine, while that of the abuser was 30.
Janet Fanslow, from the university's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, said the immediate response to such statistics was that of shock and terror but the need of the hour was to move ahead of that and consider what can be done to prevent it.
Experts say that the figures called for an urgent implementation of programmes for the primary prevention of child sexual abuse, and provision of support and treatment for those affected.
The need for culturally apposite services was underlined by figures showing that Maori women were more likely to report child sexual abuse as compared with women from other ethnic groups.
"We need to now recognise that this is a problem and think about ways we might want to organise our world differently so this doesn't happen," the NZPA quoted Dr Fanslow, as saying.
The study involved personal interviews with nearly 3000 women aged 18 to 64 from the Auckland and Waikato regions about their experiences of violence prior to and after 15 years of age.
The results have been published in Child Abuse & Neglect: the international journal.