The following is an overview of information regarding various aspects of Sexual Violence.


Variations in statistics result from differences in how data sources define sexual violence and gather information about it.

  • Of all crimes, rape is one of the most underreported, making it difficult to count (Bachar and Koss 2001). The National Women’s Study found that 84% of women did not report their rapes to police (Kilpatrick, Edmunds, and Seymour 1992).
  • The National Violence Against Women Survey estimated that 302,091 women and 92,748 men were raped in the 12 months prior to the survey administration. Victims often experience more than one rape. Of those who were raped in the previous 12 months, women experienced 2.9 rapes and men experienced 1.9 rapes, on average. (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States has experienced an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knew the perpetrator (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experienced completed or attempted rape during their college years (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner 2000).
  • According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), a national survey of high school students, approximately 9% of students reported having been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will in their lifetime. Female students (11.9%) were more likely than male students (6.1%) to report having been sexually assaulted. Overall, 12.3% of Black students, 10.4% of Hispanic students, and 7.3% of White students reported forced sexual intercourse (CDC 2004).
  • Based on a review of state records pertaining to child abuse and neglect, 86,830 children in the United States experienced sexual abuse in 2001 (DHHS 2003).



  • Many long-lasting physical symptoms and illnesses have been associated with sexual victimization including chronic pelvic pain; premenstrual syndrome; gastrointestinal disorders; and a variety of chronic pain disorders, including headache, back pain, and facial pain (Koss and Heslet 1992).
  • Between 4% and 30% of rape victims contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (Koss and Heslet 1992; Murphy 1990).
  • A longitudinal study in the United States estimated that over 32,000 pregnancies result each year from rape in victims age 12 to 45 years (Holmes et al. 1996).


Immediate Impacts

  • Sexual violence victims exhibit a variety of psychological symptoms that are similar to those of victims of other types of trauma, such as war and natural disaster (Crowell and Burgess 1996).
  • Immediate reactions to rape include shock, disbelief, denial, fear, confusion, anxiety, and withdrawal (Herman 1992).
  • Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are usually present immediately after a rape. Victims may experience emotional detachment, sleep disturbances, and flashbacks. Approximately one third of rape victims have symptoms that continue for three months or become chronic (Rothbaum et al. 1992).

Long-term Impacts

  • Rape victims often experience anxiety, guilt, nervousness, phobias, substance abuse, sleep disturbances, depression, alienation, and sexual dysfunction. They often distrust others and replay the assault in their minds, and are at increased risk of revictimization (DeLahunta 1997).
  • Women reporting forced sex are at significantly greater risk of depression and PTSD than those who have not been abused (Campbell and Soeken 1999; Fergusson, Horwood, and Lynskey 1996; Levitan et al. 1998).
  • Women with a history of sexual assault are more likely to attempt or commit suicide than other women (Felitti et al. 1998; Davidson et al. 1996; Luster and Small 1997; McCauley et al. 1997; Romans et al. 1995; Wiederman, Sansone, and Sansone 1998).


  • Rape can strain relationships because of its negative effect on the victim’s family, friends, and intimate partners (Crowell and Burgess 1996).

Health Behaviors

  • Victims of sexual violence are more likely than non-victims to engage in risky sexual behavior including having unprotected sex, having sex at an early age, having multiple sex partners, teen pregnancy, and trading sex for food, money, or other items (Boyer and Fine 1992; Brener et al. 1999). Some researchers view these consequences of sexual violence as vulnerability factors for future victimization.
  • Rape victims are more likely than non-victims to smoke cigarettes, overeat, drink alcohol, and are not likely to use seat belts (Koss, Koss and Woodruff 1991).

Groups at Risk

  • Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than men. Of the rapes and sexual assaults reported in the 2002 National Crime Victimization Survey, 87% of the victims were women and 13% were men (DOJ 2003). However, these findings may be somewhat influenced by reluctance among men to report sexual violence.
  • Sexual violence has been called a “tragedy of youth” (Kilpatrick, Edmunds, and Seymour 1992). Sexual violence starts very early in life. More than half of all rapes (54%) of women occur before age 18; 22% of these rapes occur before age 12 (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, American Indian and Alaskan Native women were significantly more likely (34%) to report that they were raped than African American women (19%) or White women (18%). (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).

Relationship Between Victim and Perpetrator

  • In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knew the perpetrator (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • In the National Violence Against Women Survey, 64% of women and 16% of men reported being raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner. This includes a current or former spouse, cohabitating partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, or date (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • In the National Women’s Study, intimate partners (current or former spouses or boyfriends) represented 19% of perpetrators, family members represented 27% of perpetrators, and 29% were relatives, friends or acquaintances. Only 22% of perpetrators were strangers (Kilpatrick, Edmunds, and Seymour 1992).

Vulnerability Factors for Victimization

The first step in preventing sexual violence is to identify and understand vulnerability factors. A vulnerability factor is anything that increases the likelihood that a person will suffer harm. Research has identified the following vulnerability factors for sexual violence (Krug et al. 2002):

  • Young age. Young women are at higher risk of being raped than older women (Acierno et al. 1999; Heise, Pitanguy, and Germain 1994). More than half of all rapes (54%) of women occur before age 18; 22% occur before age 12 (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • Drug or alcohol use. In a large longitudinal study, recreational drug use was found to increase the likelihood of rape (Kilpatrick et al. 1997). Research on the relationship between alcohol use and sexual violence is not as clear. However, drug and alcohol use may place women in settings where they are more likely to encounter potential perpetrators (Crowell and Burgess 1996).
  • Prior history of sexual violence. A study conducted in the United States found that women raped before the age of 18 were twice as likely to be raped as adults, compared to those without a history of sexual abuse (Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
  • Multiple sexual partners. Women with many sexual partners are at increased risk of experiencing sexual abuse (Crowell and Burgess 1996; Fergusson, Horwood and Lynskey 1997). Many researchers believe that having multiple partners is both a vulnerability factor and a consequence of sexual abuse. Such behavior is a coping strategy for sexual violence that increases the likelihood that a woman will be revictimized.
  • Poverty. Poverty may make the daily lives of women and children dangerous (e.g. walking alone at night, less parental supervision) and put them at greater risk for experiencing sexual violence (Krug et al. 2002). In addition, poor women may be at risk for sexual violence because their economic status forces them into certain high risk occupations, including prostitution (Irwin et al. 1995).

Risk Factors for Perpetration

The following factors have been identified as increasing the risk that a man will commit rape. These factors relate to individual attitudes and beliefs as well as social conditions (Krug et al. 2002):

Individual Factors

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Coercive sexual fantasies
  • Impulsive and antisocial tendencies
  • Preference for impersonal sex
  • Hostility towards women
  • History of sexual abuse as a child
  • Witnessed family violence as a child

Relationship Factors

  • Associate with sexually aggressive and delinquent peers
  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and few resources
  • Strongly patriarchal relationship or family environment
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment

Community Factors

  • Poverty, mediated through forms of male identity crisis
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system
  • General tolerance of sexual assault within the community
  • Weak community sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence

Societal Factors

  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
  • Weak laws and policies related to gender equity
  • High levels of crime and other forms of violence

A combination of societal, relational, and individual factors, including biological and psychological characteristics, may explain perpetration of sexual violence (Malamuth 1998).

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Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore Ph.D. is Founder and CEO at Thriveworks--a counseling practice, focused on premium client care, with 80+ locations across the USA. He is Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and Author of How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.

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