Sexual Assault Statistics
The following are drawn from the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These are just a few
- Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance;
- For male victims, more than half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger
- Approximately 1 in 21 men (4.8%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else during their lifetime; most men who were made to penetrate someone else reported that the perpetrator was either an intimate partner (44.8%) or an acquaintance (44.7%).
- An estimated 13% of women and 6% of men have experienced sexual coercion in their lifetime (i.e., unwanted sexual penetration after being pressured in a nonphysical way); and 27.2% of women and 11.7% of men have experienced unwanted sexual contact
- Most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25; 42.2% experienced their first completed rape before the age of 18 years.
- More than one-quarter of male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.
- Approximately 1 in 8 lesbian women (13%), nearly half of bisexual women (46%), and 1 in 6 heterosexual women (17%) have been raped in their lifetime. This translates to an estimated 214,000 lesbian women, 1.5 million bisexual women, and 19 million heterosexual women.
- 4 in 10 gay men (40%), nearly half of bisexual men (47%), and 1 in 5 heterosexual men (21%) have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime. This translates into nearly 1.1 million gay men, 903,000 bisexual men, and 21.6 million heterosexual men.
Why Are There Different Statistics?
Sexual violence has traditionally been an underreported crime compared to other felonies in its class. As such, different survey instruments attempt in different ways to address the issue of underreporting. Some of the most frequently cited studies on this issue have differing answers on the prevalence of sexual assault—these differences come from differences in methodology.
Primary Difference between Studies:
- Scope of experiences measured/grouping of categories (are rape and sexual assault combined or reported separately?
- Question wording & framing (asking about sexual experiences v. experiences of crimes)
- Different survey administration methods (telephone, in-person and web-based have different response rates, as well as different rates of disclosure for “socially undesirable” behaviors or experiences)
- Number of questions asked/thoroughness of questions (asking about “rape” or about “forced vaginal intercourse against your will”)
Several often cited studies on sexual assault, such as the National Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) differ in the way they ask about, measure and report rates of sexual assault (such as lifetime prevalence v. annual rate). Differences in methodology or the way statistics are grouped and reported will often produce different results. For example, because the NCVS only asks about crimes, a respondent may not include sexually coercive or forced experiences that they did not consider crimes. A helpful write up of the differences can be found in this Bureau of Justice Statistics report.
The Sexual Victimization of College Women survey points out a discrepancy that different methodological strategies, such as alternative wording and question detail are meant to help capture:
82 women responded affirmatively to questions describing the legal definition of rape that did not include the word rape, i.e. “Since school began in fall 1996, has anyone made you have sexual intercourse by using force or threatening to harm you or someone close to you? Just so there is no mistake, by intercourse I mean putting a penis in your vagina.”
The 82 women who responded yes to a question that met the legal definition of rape were also asked “Do you consider this incident to be a rape.” Of those same 82 women, only 40 (46.5%) considered it rape, 42 (48.8%) did not consider it rape, and 4 (4.7%) answered that they did not know.
Different surveys are designed with different measurement goals in mind, and are meant to answer different questions. It’s important when looking at statistics to look at the way the numbers are reported, and the methodology that led them to those numbers in order to assess what they are really telling you.
For more information:
Bachman, Ronet, and Bruce H. Taylor. "The measurement of family violence and rape by the redesigned National Crime Victimization Survey." Justice Quarterly 11, no. 3 (1994): 499-512.
Koss, Mary P. "The under detection of rape: Methodological choices influence incidence estimates." Journal of social issues 48, no. 1 (1992): 61-75.
Schwartz, Martin D. "Methodological issues in the use of survey data for measuring and characterizing violence against women." Violence Against Women 6, no. 8 (2000): 815-838.
Testa, Maria, Carol VanZile‐Tamsen, Jennifer A. Livingston, and Mary P. Koss. "Assessing women's experiences of sexual aggression using the Sexual Experiences Survey: Evidence for validity and implications for research." Psychology of Women Quarterly 28, no. 3 (2004): 256-265.
Wilson, Laura C., and Katherine E. Miller. "Meta-analysis of the prevalence of unacknowledged rape." Trauma, Violence, & Abuse (2015): 1524838015576391.