It is a sobering fact that sexual assault is one of the most prevalent crimes committed in American society. While a tremendous amount of work has been done in our culture to empower victims, hold perpetrators accountable, and remove the stigma around reporting assault, statistics still point to a very troubling picture of sexual assault in America.
Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. This is a staggering rate. This works out to an average of 237,868 victims of rape or sexual assault each year. To say there is a sexual assault crisis in our society may be a dramatic understatement, especially given that countless assaults go unreported each year.
Here is a look at how sexual assault is affecting society.
Fast Facts – The Scope of the Problem
- Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
- There are over 463,000 rape victims in America each and every year.
- Young Americans are at the highest risk for sexual violence.
- 90% of adult rape victims are women.
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
- 1 in 2 transgender Americans will experience sexual violence.
- 2 in 5 gay men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
- Only 2% of reported sexual assaults turn out to be false.
- Only 28% of sexual assault victims report their experiences to the police.
- American Indians are twice as likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault as compared to other races.
- The Department of Defense estimates that over 6% of women serving in the military experience sexual assault.
- 55% of assaults occur at or near the victim’s home.
Sexual assault and adolescent Americans
Adolescents and young adults seem to be at the epicenter of the sexual assault crisis in America. They are disproportionately victimized by other age groups:
- Young people in America are at a higher risk of sexual assault than any other age group in the nation. 54% of sexual assault victims experience this violence between the ages of 18-34.
- Females under the age of 18 are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the general population. This trend sadly continued later on college campuses.
- One out of every four girls and one out of every seven boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. The prevalence of assault amongst this age group is particularly concerning as this is society’s most vulnerable population.
- One in 8 female rape victims and 1 in 4 male victims report their experience occurred before age 10. This is a particularly chilling statistic for our society’s more vulnerable population.
- Common, long-lasting effects of child sexual assault include a higher likelihood of developing substance abuse issues, developing post-traumatic stress disorder, and experiencing major depressive episodes over the course of a lifetime.
- 93% of sexual assault perpetrators are known by the victim with 34% being family members. The perpetrators are overwhelmingly male, coming in at 88%.
Sexual assault on college campuses
College campuses are a particularly dangerous place for sexual assault, especially for young women early in their college careers. There is much to be studied with regards to why this happens and also the reporting structures that are in place to help those who are impacted.
- One in five women in college has been sexually assaulted. When taking into consideration the number of girls who are assaulted before they turn 18, there is a high probability that women are often victimized several times over the course of their life.
- Women who have been victimized during adolescence either by assault or attempted assault are twice as likely the be assaulted in college and three times more likely to be assaulted by a spouse.
- Of the one in five women who are assaulted on campus, 84% are victimized within their first two years on campus and 85% are assaulted by someone they know. Additionally, assaults on college campuses are more frequent in August, September, October, and November.
- It is estimated that only 12% of campus assaults are reported. With one in five women being sexually assaulted while in college, a huge number of these crimes go unreported to law enforcement for various reasons.
- Alarmingly, 23% of LGBTQ college students have been victims of sexual assault.
- Over 13% of women in college say they have been forced to have sex while out on a date during their time on campus.
Long-term effects of sexual assault on victims
The impact of sexual assault has both near-term and long-term consequences. Often victims are left with non-visible scars that impact their mental well-being their entire life. Here are some of the long-term effects that sexual assault experiences can have on victims:
- Suicide rears its ugly head. 33% of women who are raped consider suicide and 13% of women who are raped actually attempt suicide.
- Victims of sexual assault are far more likely to experience substance abuse than the general population. For instance, victims are 6 times more likely to use cocaine and 3 times more likely to use marijuana. Substance as a side effect is very concerning given the life-long consequences that behaviour can bring about.
- Work and school life can be dramatically impacted by victims. Nearly 40% of victims experience work and school problems that can include significant issues with superiors or co-workers. 67% of those assaulted by complete strangers experience professional or personal issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and intense emotional distress.
Who are the perpetrators of sexual assault?
- 75% of assailants are either acquaintances, family, or romantic partners of the victims. With only 19% of perpetrators being strangers, this shows that most often, it is those familiar with victims who are at the greatest risk.
- 93% of juvenile victims of sexual assault know the assailant with 34% of them being family members.
- 50% of assailants are over the age of 30 and 57% of them are white.
- Assailants use a weapon in 11% of rapes and sexual assaults.
- A majority of alleged sexual assault perpetrators have at least one prior conviction.
Where do we go from here?
These statistics paint a dire picture of sexual assault in America. It is apparent that a large segment of the population is regularly victimized and suffers life-long mental health struggles as a result. One of the first steps toward a solution is making society aware of just how significant the problem is.
Additionally, these statistics point to the fact that there is another large portion of the American populace committing criminal sexual assault and likely not being held accountable. Our society must work to come to terms with the fact that this is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed on two fronts:
- America must cultivate a society where sexual assault is never considered appropriate.
- America must empower victims as much as possible to ward off the ill effects of sexual assault and promote a culture of justice for these victims.
Working toward ending the sexual assault epidemic in our society is among some of the tasks we have before us. Identifying those most likely to be perpetrators and victims and bolstering the resources to prevent the behaviour and treat victims are the first steps in accomplishing this.