Sexual Assault Statistics
Talking about sexual assault tends to get complicated in a hurry. Trying to have an in-depth discussion about it without starting a fight is like walking across a bed of coals without getting so much as a soot mark on your foot- it ain’t gonna happen. So before we get to that point, let’s dive into something objective: hard numbers from reputable sources.
If you read the intro, you saw the two major stats regarding sexual assault- almost a quarter million women are sexually assaulted each year, and one in six women have survived an attempted or completed rape. The significance of those figures requires little explanation. But there are other statistics worth noting and, when necessary, setting into context.
-According to the Disaster Center’s list of crime rates in the U.S., there were 15,241 murders in 2009, compared to 89,000 forcible rapes. In other words, the rape rate is approximately six times the murder rate. (The FBI lists the number of forcible rapes at 88,097- close enough for our purposes. It should be noted this is an estimate designed to track as closely as possible to the real number; this is not simply based on the number of arrests made.)
Having more rapes than murders should be expected. But given the severe traumas associated with rape, the fact those traumas are often intended and sometimes lead to suicide, and a general recognition that rape is pretty much the worst crime a person can live through, to see several multiples of difference between those numbers is noteworthy.
-While about 80% of all victims are white, minorities are somewhat more likely to be attacked.
Worth noting in light of the fact that violent crime victims covered by the media, especially if a story goes national, are almost always white. Obviously if 80% of the overall number are white we’d expect a healthy majority of stories to involve white victims, but it’s important to know that women in some other groups are at greater risk.
One thing I’m curious about, if anyone has an answer, is why mixed-race women are assaulted at such a significantly higher rate than either black or white women. Or why there’s no data for Hispanic women.
-Women age 16-24 are four times more likely to be raped than the general population.
Given our fascination (obsession?) with the beauty of youthful women, this is not a particularly huge shock. However, as the intro says, if you think you don’t know a rape victim, you’re wrong. This stat focuses that idea- if you’re 14 and rarely leave the house, it’s actually possible you don’t know a rape victim. But if you’re 25, and you tend to be around people near your age, then you do. Guaranteed.
-Nine in 10 rape victims are female.
This also means one in ten rape victims are male. This site doesn’t dive into that issue, but it’s absolutely true that men are subject to sexual assault and that should not be forgotten.
-2/3rds of rapes (73% of overall sexual assaults) are committed by someone known to the victim.
-Over half of all sexual assaults happen at or within a mile of the victim’s home.
That whole stranger-in-the-bushes thing? Not nearly as common as some people think. Those stories tend to get the most play in the media because it’s much easier for most people to agree on the essential criminality and victimhood of those involved, but they’re far from the norm. Rapists are like vampires; if you knew what they were capable of, you’d never invite them in. (It’s unfortunate, for the analogy’s sake, that so many people think vampires are awesome.)
-60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
Geez, why is that?
Well, for starters…
-If a rape is reported, the odds of an arrest being made are 50/50.
-Approximately 6% of rapists serve any jail time.
More related stats here.
This will be dealt with in greater detail elsewhere. For now, these stats are here to point out one of the major but generally unknown/unacknowledged reasons why sexual assault is not taken seriously as a societal problem: Even the people who think rape is awful often have no idea of the problem’s extent because it’s relatively unusual for the crime to result in a criminal case they might hear about. Any given rape victim probably doesn’t know these numbers precisely, but she almost certainly is aware that if she goes to the police it’s unlikely anything of note will happen.
-The FBI places the false claim rate for rape at 8%.
(Wikipedia link; some of the source links are dead, but this 8% number has appeared in FBI reports several times.)
Some men are scared shitless that they might be falsely accused of rape. In their minds, the relative lack of evidence makes it a he-said/she-said game that she can trigger at no cost to herself while potentially destroying his life. Why this is generally an unfounded fear will be dealt with later.
For now, let’s acknowledge that the false claim rate is a) higher than that for other crimes (the false claim rate for other crimes is around 2%) and b) still low. Assuming the 8% number is correct- and the link has evidence for why the number of people actually lying about being raped may be lower- that still means 92% of accusers were victims of something that could at least be investigated as rape.
I know a lot of people will read that and say, something that can be investigated as rape isn’t necessarily rape. If you’re trying to draw fine distinctions between rape and something a little less than rape, yeah, that’s true. And it’s also true that in a lot of those cases, there won’t be enough hard evidence to obtain a criminal conviction, even if the authorities are treating it with all due seriousness and investigating the accusation as thoroughly as they would for any other type of crime.
But that only matters with finding justice after the fact, not with stopping rapes from occurring in the first place, which is what we care about. What matters here, then, is that if the FBI finds 92% of those cases worth pursuing to any degree, then it’s not just reasonable, but very likely that this 92% of (mostly) women who go to the police were hurt by someone else’s actions. According to the RAINN link above, even with reported attacks, only 16.3% of the time does the accused end up in jail; that means three-quarters of women who file a report were a) assaulted in some manner and b) don’t see their attackers sent to prison.
In other words, for 75% of those women, the situation is this: A guy out there has, in some manner, assaulted her. She’s run him into the police, which he knows since they would have spoken with him about the incident. Whether he’s convicted, works out a plea bargain, or is set loose, he does no time. He probably knows her. There’s a good chance he knows where she lives. Thus, someone who was willing to hurt that woman once is free to attack her again, very possibly knows who she is and where to find her, and has what he might easily consider a sufficient rationale for tracking her down.
And yet we question someone’s story solely because she won’t go to the police?
Bottom line, if we’re going to make a dent in this problem, it’s critical to not assume that an accuser is lying or that something not all that terrible happened to her just because she didn’t try to press criminal charges. Taking rape claims seriously and treating women with respect is the way to increase the likelihood of rape victims reporting their assaults. That alone would bring a huge positive change; if the 16.3% conviction rate for reported rapes stayed the same but every victim came forward, two-and-a-half times as many rapists would go to jail.
That’s especially important in light of a couple of stats regarding rapists.
-All rapes are committed by only 6-7% of men. Approximately 2/3 of those are repeat rapists.
-The average repeat rapist rapes 5.8 times in his life.
One in six women will be subjected to an attempted or completed rape. The ratio of men who rape to the general male population is somewhere from one in 14 to one in 16. It’s a pretty small group of guys, relatively speaking, who do this. So that’s good.
As for the rates, in the linked study, about one-third of the men who acknowledged an assault only committed one rape. For everyone else, the average was 5.8. What this means, essentially, is that a guy who’s willing to rape someone is probably willing to rape someone else- and someone else, and someone else, and someone else, opportunity willing. So every time a rapist is sent off to the pen, we’re not only finding a measure of justice for what he’s done, but in all likelihood protecting others from him for the foreseeable future.
Sexual assault statistics generally cover more than rape, but as you can see rape is always the main focus. This, however, leads to a question that causes a surprising amount of arguments:
What, exactly, is rape?