Sexual assault is defined as any type of unwanted or unwelcome sexual contact. Although our understanding of sexual assault has grown over the past decade, it remains a serious and prevalent issue. However, as widespread as the issue is, finding definitive sexual assault statistics can be difficult and information varies from organization to organization.
How Often Does Sexual Assault Occur in the United States?
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted and every nine minutes, that victim is a child.
Yet, this information is based on estimates and extrapolated from surveys. Because rape and sexual assault are among the most underreported crimes in the world, we don’t have any consensus anywhere or from anyone.
From 2000-2019, the FBI reported an average of 91,770 sexual assaults in the United States.
The true number is likely much, much higher.
In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that an average of 355,569 sexual assaults occurred during that time frame.
Consider this: From 2000-2019, the FBI reported an average of 91,770 sexual assaults in the United States. The true number is likely much, much higher. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that an average of 355,569 sexual assaults occurred during that time frame.
This is a gap of more than 260,000 incidents.
Because of the disparity in information, we researched and compiled as many facts and statistics as we could to present them in one comprehensive list.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR):
- There were an estimated 101,151 rape cases reported in 2018 – using the legacy definition for rape – the highest number since 1994. However, in 2013, the FBI revised the definition of rape to include “any penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
- The estimated number of rape cases in 2018 using the revised definition is 139,380.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS):
- From 2000-2019, the highest number of estimated sexual assault and rape cases for ages 12 and older were reported in 2018.
- In 2018, 734,632 sexual assault and rape cases were reported – 652,676 female cases and 81,956 male cases.
- The reported number of sexual assaults committed by students (K-12) was 17,000 from 2011 to 2015.
Reporting Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse
Why is the information so disparate? As previously mentioned, rape is the most underreported crime, and the majority of perpetrators are not held accountable for their crimes.
According to RAINN:
- “Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free.”
- Only 230 of those sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.
- From those, 46 reports lead to arrests, nine cases get sent to prosecutors, five cases will lead to a felony conviction, and less than five rapists will be incarcerated.
- Only 2-8 percent of sexual assaults are falsely reported.
In a study on sexual abuse:
- 73 percent of child victims did not disclose the abuser when the abuser was a relative or a stepparent, and 70 percent did not reveal the abuser when it was an acquaintance.
- More than 60 percent of child victims do not disclose the abuse during childhood because they fear their safety, or experience feelings of shame and guilt as a result of the abuse.
Consent is an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement. Consent in one instance doesn’t imply consent in the next; every situation and sexual encounter is unique. The absence of the word “no” is not the same as saying yes. Consent is about communication and the freedom to choose and change your mind anytime. If someone is unconscious, asleep, or underage, it means that she or he is unable to give consent.
- In a Planned Parenthood survey: Only 27 percent of women and 19 percent of men said that consent had to be given at every step in a sexual encounter.
- By definition, rape is a forced act, and yet, a study showed that nearly a third of college men admitted to using force to get a woman to have sex with them, never perceiving it as rape. Researchers explain that men may perceive a woman’s “no,” less as a lack of consent, and more as resistance that falls in line with stereotypical gender norms (such as the myth of “playing hard to get”).
How often does the victim know the perpetrator?
Sexual assault happens most often with someone that the victim knows – whether that is a family member, a relative, an acquaintance, or someone in a position of power. That is hard to grasp, both for the survivor and for society.
- Rape: The victim knew the perpetrator 80 percent of the time.
- Child Sexual Abuse: The child victim knew the abuser 93 percent of the time.
- College Campus: The victim knew the perpetrator 90 percent of the time.
- Date Rape: 10 Percent of women are sexually assaulted by an intimate partner.
“We want to believe that the rapist is the scary guy who jumps out from behind a bush – not that it’s someone that we respect, someone who has immense talent or someone who is a leader in our community because that would force us to face the reality that this happens all the time and it’s all around us; we can’t necessarily protect ourselves in the way that we want. It starts to raise the issue of our vulnerability and the vulnerability of our loved ones,” Amy Jones, a therapist and the CEO of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, explains.
Who is most impacted by sexual assault?
According to RAINN:
- Nine out of ten victims of rape are female.
- According to RAINN: Ages 12-34 are at the highest risk of sexual assault.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS):
- College women, ages 18-24, are three times more likely to experience sexual assault than women of any other age. Women who are not enrolled in college, ages 18-24, are four times more likely.
- People with intellectual disabilities are likely to be victimized at rates seven times higher than people without disabilities.
- Women who identify as gay, bisexual, or lesbian are more at risk of experiencing sexual assault than heterosexual women on college campuses.
- Women in the military, ages 17-24, are more likely to be victimized, according to the Department of Defense.
Responses to Sexual Assault and Trauma
Victims of sexual assault process and respond to the trauma in their own way and in their own time. There isn’t a “right” way to react or a definite timeline for healing. Some may experience dissociation – the feeling that they are watching themselves from the outside. Others may cope through escapism – through blocking the memory and trying to deny it happened. Others may withdraw socially and emotionally, shutting off from the world. Many feel as though they have lost their voice.
Monika Korra, who was gang-raped near Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX said: “All I really wanted was to sleep and wake up, like none of this had happened.” Chanel Miller, who was raped at Stanford University seven months after graduating college, wrote: “Assault buries the self. We lose sight of how and when we are allowed to occupy space. We are made to doubt our abilities, discouraged when we speak.” In sexual assault advocacy training, rape is often described as the “murder of the soul.”
Other responses include, but are not limited to:
- Loss of control
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Shock, or disbelief
- Feelings of unworthiness, or an impaired sense of self
Studies show that victims of sexual assault are least likely to take “fight” or “flight” during the assault. This is because most women aren’t trained to fight, most likely knew and trusted the perpetrator, and are engulfed by fear, shock, disbelief and betrayal. More common responses to sexual assault and trauma are temporary paralysis and collapsed immobility, where the heart rate and blood pressure drop dramatically until you feel like passing out.
Effects of Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse
Sexual assault affects a survivor’s life in all aspects – emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. It impacts their quality of life, their finances, and the relationships and experiences they have. It impacts their sense of self and how safe they feel in their own skin. However, it also impacts the people around them and society as a whole.
Adults who faced sexual abuse as children may suffer lifelong effects. Survivors of child sexual abuse often blame themselves for what happened and take personal responsibility for the abuse. They internalize their feelings and develop a negative self-image, self-destructive thoughts, and other mental health issues and medical concerns including: depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, body issues, eating disorders, disturbed sleeping patterns, and pelvic pain.
- Rape costs each victim an estimated $122,461 in his or her lifetime.
- According to a 2016 study, the total economic burden of rape is estimated to be nearly $3.1 trillion over victim’s lifetimes – including 1.2 trillion in medical costs, $1.6 trillion in lost work productivity, $234 billion in criminal justice costs, and $36 billion in other associated costs (such as property loss or damage).
- 81 percent of women and 35 percent of men report temporary and lasting effects on their mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Annual health care costs are 36 percent higher for women who are survivors of both sexual and physical child abuse, 22 percent higher for women of physical abuse only, and 16 percent higher for women with sexual abuse only.
- 33 percent of student survivors suffer from depression compared with 11 percent of non-survivors.
- 34 percent of student survivors suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder compared with nine percent of non-survivors.
- 40 percent of student survivors report drug or alcohol abuse compared with 17 percent of non-survivors.
How do U.S. convictions compare with the UK?
As mentioned earlier, less than one percent of rape cases lead to felony convictions in the U.S every year. In the United Kingdom, seven percent of cases lead to felony convictions. From 2016 to 2017, there were 41,150 rape cases reported to the police in Wales and England – with only 2,991 leading to a conviction. In UK, most rape cases reported to the police are given a “no action,” meaning they don’t pursue the case or charge the alleged attacker. Prosecution in the U.S., UK, and other countries is impacted by common rape myths, perceptions and jurors’ prejudices. Germany, for example, passed a law in 2016 stating that “no means no,” regardless of whether the victim fought back.
Less than one percent of rape cases lead to felony convictions in the U.S every year.
In the United Kingdom, seven percent of cases lead to felony convictions.
Sexual Abuse v.s. Sexual Assault
Both sexual abuse and sexual assault are criminal acts. Sexual abuse is when a minor is exposed to sexual behavior by an adult that is exploitive or inappropriate. By state law, a minor cannot give consent to any sexual act. The age of consent varies between 16 and 18, depending on the state.
Sexual abuse can include any type of behavior or act that is a sexual assault. Types of sexual abuse include:
- Child pornography
- Sex Trafficking
- Any type of sexual contact, sexual penetration, or exposure to sexual acts
Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. It is when a person is forced into a sexual act without his or her consent. Types of sexual assault include:
- Rape or attempted rape – which includes any degree of penetration
- Forced sexual contact, such as oral sex
- Any unwanted touching in a sexual part of the body
Child Sexual Abuse Statistics
As mentioned earlier, 93 percent of child sexual abuse happens with someone that the victim knows – and trusts. According to RAINN:
Out of all sexual abuse victims under the age of 18:
- One-third are under the age of 12
- Two-thirds are between 12 and 17.
- 59 percent of child sexual abusers are acquaintances
- 34 percent of child sexual abusers are family members
- 7 percent of child sexual abusers are strangers
This data shows that the abuser can be someone with credibility: a Catholic Church priest, a nationally recognized gymnastics team doctor, or a beloved college coach. Acquaintances can be anyone that knows the victim.
According to BishopAccountability:
- From 1950-2018, 7,002 clerics were accused of sexually abusing minors – with 20,052 known victims.
- This is 5.9 percent of the total number of clerics.
Larry Nassar was a doctor who treated the U.S. national gymnastics team for two decades. He used his profession to violate young girls – often in plain sight. The parents of the patients were sometimes in the same room when it happened, but no one suspected he would do something like that. After an appointment with Nassar, one of his patients – a 13-year-old named Kaylee – told her mom that Nassar had done something that made her uncomfortable. She told her mom he touched her “down there.” Her mom doesn’t know how to respond: “And the whole time you’re – you know what she’s saying, but you’re – you’re trying to rationalize that it can’t be that.” But Kaylee’s instincts were right – she knew what didn’t feel right for her body and she told a parent.
However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, a child is being groomed into a sexual act by an adult he or she trusts and doesn’t recognize what is happening until much later.
Sexual Assault on Campus
College students – specifically women aged 18-24 – are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted. They are most at risk during their first year in college.
In “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary on sexual assault on college campuses, one survivor says: “There was a reluctance to believe me.” Colleges are known to shield their star athletes after an assault – to protect their “heroes” and reputation at the expense of the survivors and their well-being.
- According to the NSVRC: One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted during college.
- According to RAINN: More than 50 percent of sexual assaults occurred during the fall semester: August, September, October, and November.
- More than 90 percent of sexual assault survivors on campus never report the assault.
- 50 percent of sexual assaults occurred during a date.
- 13 percent of all students, 26 percent of female undergraduate students and 10 percent of female graduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.
- Less than 4 percent of men are college athletes and commit 19 percent of sexual assaults on campus.
- For the 100 to 300 sexual assaults reported in Ivy league colleges, there are 0 to 3 expulsions.
- One in three rape survivors who stayed on campus suffered academically, and one in five contemplated leaving college.
- 78 percent of male students, ages 18 to 24, are more likely to become a victim of sexual assault than males of the same age who are not in college.
Sexual Assault in the LGBTQ Community
The LGBTQ community is another group that is vulnerable to sexual violence, particularly for those who identify as bisexual or transgender.
- Bisexual women are more at risk of becoming a victim of sexual violence, excluding rape, than both heterosexual and lesbian women.
- The lifetime prevalence for sexual violence, excluding rape, for Lesbian women was 46.4 percent, compared to 74.9 percent for bisexual women, and 43.3 percent for heterosexual women. Comparatively, it was 40.2 percent for gay men, 47.4 percent for bisexual men, and 20.8 percent for heterosexual men.
- According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, about 47 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their life.
Sexual Assault in the Military
Even though more women are joining the military today, the military’s hyper-masculine culture prevails. The top-down structure also makes it difficult, almost impossible, to question authority. This can unintentionally normalize sexual assault. Women make up only 20 percent of the military service members today but are targets of 63 percent of sexual assaults. Women at lower ranks and younger ages are most at-risk of victimization.
Women make up only 20 percent of the military service members today but are targets of 63 percent of sexual assaults.
Women at lower ranks and younger ages are most at-risk of victimization.
According to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military:
- Military women, ages 17-24, are most likely to be victimized by military men they know, and even consider to be their friends or an acquaintance.
- Typically, their offender is someone who lives in close proximity to them, or works or trains with them.
- The offender is more likely to be either the same rank or a rank higher.
- A survey revealed that there were an estimated 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual touching” in fiscal year 2018 – including about 13,000 women and 7,500 men. The survey included men and women in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marines.
- This was a 38 percent increase from the fiscal year 2016 survey.
- In the fiscal year 2019, Military Services received 7,825 reports of sexual assault – a three percent increase from the fiscal year 2018.
Sexual Assault and People with Intellectual Disabilities
- As mentioned earlier, people with intellectual disabilities are likely to become victims of sexual assault at rates more than seven times those of people without disabilities. They are also the least likely to come forward about what happened to them and seek justice.
- They are most likely to be victimized by people they know, trust, and may rely on, like a caregiver, friend, or family member – but also, by people with intellectual disabilities themselves.
#MeToo Movement and Men in Positions of Power
In 2017, the #metoo hashtag went viral, first in the United States, then globally, and exposed the prevalence of sexual assault. Survivors came forward from all walks of life, sharing their stories, and saying two simple, yet powerful words: “Me too.” Tarana Burke started the movement to send the message: “You are heard. You are understood,” to all survivors.
In the film industry, the #metoo movement exposed the Hollywood men who had abused their positions of power for decades and started to hold them accountable for their sexual misconduct. The story repeats itself: A man in power targets young women who are new to the industry and who are still impressionable. He knows that in his power of position, his word is worth more. Women often don’t come forward out of fear of retaliation, of losing credibility, and their careers.
After the #metoo movement, 85 women brought up over 100 instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein, who had the power to make or break anyone’s acting career. Many of the women, though renowned actresses today, were less known – and therefore, less powerful – at the time of the sexual misconduct. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
- According to a USA TODAY survey, 94 percent of women in the entertainment industry reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault.
According to Yale University’s Economics Department:
- In the U.S., reporting of sex crimes to the police increased by 7 percent in the first three months following the social media launch of the #metoo movement.
- Sex-crime reporting also increased by 14 percent across 24 countries with strong #metoo movements, like Canada and Sweden in those initial three months. This amounted to an additional 11,600 reports. In 2018, Sweden passed a new law, recognizing sex without consent as rape – even if there is no violence or threat involved.
- The #metoo movement not only raised awareness, but it sparked a cultural shift. Its effects were consistent among socioeconomic and racial groups, and continued through 2018 in the U.S. and internationally.
Sexual Assault in Prison
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
- In 2011, correctional administrators reported 8,768 allegations of sexual victimization in prisons, jails as well as other adult correctional facilities. That number tripled in 2015, to 24,661 reports.
- 58 percent of sexual victimization was perpetrated by members of the staff, and the remaining 42 percent involved inmate-on-inmate sexual violence.
- A study showed that 15 percent of staff members accused of sexual misconduct were allowed to keep their jobs.
- Most victims are men since incarceration rates for them tend to be much higher than those for women.
- However, the majority of women who face sexual violence do so repeatedly – often by correctional officers who hold power over them and get away with the crime.
Why Sexual Assault Actually Happens v.s. Victim Blaming
Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, yet victims are often made to question their decisions in court, to doubt themselves. They are judged for their choice of clothing, for their behavior and mannerisms, and for their alcohol intake. Society turns to victim-blaming because it provides a false sense of security. They run through a checklist: If I don’t do this, this, and this, then it won’t happen to me, and it won’t happen to my daughter in college. But it doesn’t work that way. While it is important to reduce risk and have safe practices in place, that is not going to stop sexual assault. The only person responsible and to blame for the sexual assault is the person who committed it, and the only people who can put an end to sexual violence are the people who commit the crime – by stopping.
Sexual assault doesn’t happen because someone is intoxicated, has an untreated mental health condition, or is having a bad day. It doesn’t happen because a woman dresses in a short dress. Sexual assault happens because of a deeply rooted belief system. “In their belief system, they hold values that they can exhibit this power and control over another human being, that they are entitled to do that, that they have the right to do that. Where do belief systems start? They start at a really young age,” therapist Amy Jones explained.
Activist and survivor of date rape, Katie Koestner spoke out: “Have you ever said, you should’ve seen it coming? I want you to know there is no way you can know. I promise you it wasn’t your fault.”
Sexual Assault and Media
Only 16 percent of sex education for children comes from parents and school teachers. The rest is derived from media: music, movies, television shows, and pornography, which can be violent, misleading and contain blurred lines of consent. Studies show that media – particularly pornography violence– color perceptions and create a false sense of reality. Researcher and activist Gail Dine writes that “porn gives permission to its consumers to treat women as they are treated in porn,” which can contribute to normalizing sexually abusive behavior in real life. It distorts views – making it seem like there aren’t any consequences to sexual violence.
Only 16 percent of sex education for children comes from parents and school teachers.
The rest is derived from media: music, movies, television shows, and pornography, which can be violent, misleading and contain blurred lines of consent.
Video games are another area where violence against women and misogyny persist. Since 2014, women make up nearly half of gamers worldwide, yet that isn’t reflected in the treatment of female gamers or the depiction of female characters. Studies show that women often experience sexual harassment within the gaming community, from verbal harassment through voice chat to groping and stalking of their avatar. In 2009, Anita Sarkeesian started a nonprofit and website called Feminist Frequency to fight abuse and challenge sexism in the gaming industry.
Sex Education Today
In the fiscal year 2016, Congress increased funding for abstinence-only education to $85 million per year. Studies show that abstinence-until-marriage programs are completely ineffective, as 95 percent of Americans continue to engage in premarital sex. Abstinence-only education and inadequate sex education are harmful to girls, as they deprive them of key information, increasing their experiences of victimization. They fail to prepare girls for situations that may arise, while also, placing the blame on them if a sexual encounter does occur.
According to a study by Columbia University:
- Undergraduate women who had taken sex education classes were half as likely to be sexually assaulted than those with abstinence-only education.
- Undergraduate women with abstinence-only education did not see reduction rates in sexual assault.
Sex education delays sexual behavior, increases the use of contraceptives in adolescents and reduces the risk of teen pregnancy. However, only 24 states require sex education, and out of those, less than half discuss healthy relationships and terms like consent and sexual assault.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Education
Studies have shown that the most effective way of preventing sexual assault is through educating kids from a young age – on what respectful relationships look like, on what kind of behaviors are okay and appropriate, and on understanding boundaries and consent. Often, boys are taught subliminal messages on masculinity when they are repeatedly told to not cry like a girl. Children are unintentionally taught to not respect their physical boundaries when they are told to kiss or hug a family member they don’t want to. While neither of these instances are intended to be harmful, they teach boys at a young age to not respect girls, and children at a young age that someone else is in control of their body and their experience.
As a scholar brings up in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers: “How can we expect students to respect boundaries when no consensus exists as to what they are?” Author Laurie Halse Anderson, known for her young adult novel Speak writes that teenage boys don’t grasp the impact of rape because they are ill-informed or completely kept out of the conversation. They often gain their knowledge on the topic from the wrong sources. Like most people, they are taught to believe that the rapist is going to be someone who jumps out of the bushes. They are never taught that a rapist can be someone just like them. They aren’t taught that it happens to the people they know and love. Boys are missing key information and guidance on sex, intimacy and consent that can only be passed on through open and honest conversation.
Jones also emphasizes that we have to be intentional about teaching, preparing and empowering our children to:
- Have ownership over their bodies
- Set limits and boundaries for what feels right for them, early on
- Be clear on which behaviors are appropriate and okay, and which are not
- Feel that they can speak up for themselves
- Have the tools and the information to engage in relationships with people in a really respectful way Redefine masculinity
Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you are not alone.
- About the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline (RAINN)
- Directory of Organizations (By state)
- Start by Believing: Ending the Cycle of Silence in Sexual Assault (A global campaign to change the way we respond to sexual assault)
- Take Back the Night | Action Against Sexual Violence (Earliest worldwide movement to stand against sexual violence)
- End Rape on Campus (For survivors on college campuses)
- National Child Abuse Hotline
- VAWnet.org: Gender-Based Violence Resource Library
- National Organization for Victim Assistance