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.

Stats here.

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.

(Overview article here; source report here.)

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?

11 Responses to “Sexual Assault Statistics”

  1. What is rape? According to the GOP, there is “forcible” rape and rape that is not forcible. In the new bill that they have pushed through the house, their idea is that it is not enough for a woman to just say “no”. If the woman did not fight back, it is not forcible rape. Of course, is a woman really going to fight back if there is a gun to her head or a knife to her throat? I doubt it. What these idiots in the GOP do not get is that the woman doesn’t even need to say NO. The lack of a YES is what makes it a sexual assault/rape.

    Now, I think it is vital that as a society we move to encourage victims of rape to seek out the police and get the proper medical care (even if to make sure they take plan – B and any of the prophylactic drugs that can prevent the transmittal of HIV or other STD. How do we do this? Well, it involves making sure that stories like this never happen: No police officer should ever ask a woman in the investigation if she enjoyed it. Ever. Training needs to take place in police departments and hospitals to make sure that women who make an accusation of rape are treated with dignity and respect.

    But I do want to add one more thing. It is also very important that we not abandon the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I was falsely accused once and am not sure if I would have been counted in that 8% or not. A police report was taken but no charges were ever filed. It was a terrifying event for me. I doubt it was as terrifying as a rape is but it was terrifying nonetheless. It impacts me to this very day even though I never had to face prison or the label of a sexual offender for the rest of my life over a lie. I once read a cosmo that belonged to an ex-girlfriend of mine. The (unscientific) poll they took had 33% of the women seeing no problem with falsely accusing a man of rape. This is the type of thing that rightly scares men.

    What is strange in my posting on the internet about both issues is that I have been attacked by feminists and by “mens rights advocates” alike. Why? Because I refuse to take either extreme in the debate. I think we absolutely can do more as a society to treat people who make an accusation of rape with dignity and respect AND I think we could do more as a society to treat people accused of rape with the presumption of innocence they would be given with any other crime.

    • First thing is, how in the world did you find this? I made it public because it was the easiest way for my roommate to have access, but I never expected anyone from the outside to lay eyes on any of this. Then again, I found a couple of spam comments, so I guess it couldn’t have been that hard.

      It sucks that you were falsely accused of rape, and I sympathize. But I would point out that the system worked the way it should have. The police made an initial investigation, found insufficient evidence of a crime, and no case was brought against you. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s scary when the police show up looking for you like that, but then again, being investigated by the police for something you didn’t do, no matter what it was, is going to trip most people out. The only thing that makes rape different from other crimes is that a lot of men believe they’re liable to be thrown in jail on a rape charge on nothing more than a woman’s word. You hear this a lot from rape apologists who don’t want to see any accusation taken seriously, even though it’s not only them who believe it.

      But if anything, men need to stop using this idea as a reason to play down rape accusations and instead demand that the police treat those accusations with the utmost seriousness. That means doing everything right- treat the woman with sensitivity, don’t victim blame, but also make a thorough investigation and work to put away anyone when sufficient evidence exists for a conviction. It also means all of us need to encourage more women to come forward rather than questioning their competence as witnesses, blaming them for whatever happened to them, and basically trying to make them eat shit for acknowledging that they were assaulted. As long as so few rapists do time, there always have to be questions about which guys in the crowd are capable of sexually assaulting someone. The more we can ferret out those guilty parties, the more we can not only make women feel safer from attack, but seeing that the police know how to handle rape accusations correctly will also help men feel safer that nothing will happen to them due to a false accusation.

      As for that 33% stat, I actually wouldn’t be surprised if a more scientific survey came up with a number that was that high or close to it. It’s not because women are vicious harpies bent on seeing men they don’t like locked away; quite the contrary, it would be due to the fact so few women think (correctly) that any legal repercussions will come against a rapist. Thus they assume such an accusation would do nothing but damage the man’s reputation. I also wouldn’t be surprised if “falsely accusing” just means telling their friends as opposed to the police. That’s not ok, no one should do that, but it would speak to the same idea. If it was normal for women to go to the police with a rape claim, however, and for rape cases with sufficient evidence to end in convictions and jail time, that 33% would be considerably lower.

      • I believe you linked to the “Yes means Yes” blog and it shows a list of other blogs that link to it under the post you linked to. So that is how I found this post.

        The only way I would say that the system could have worked better in my case would be to say that the police should not contact the accused until after they take the statement. Had they done that in this case, I would have never been contacted and I would not have had to go through what I have gone through. Yes, the system decided to not press charges because it was obvious I did nothing wrong. But it is something I still live with. Whenever there is a case with a false accusation, the same feelings rush through my head. I will occasionally have nightmares about it, wondering “what if”. The system also “worked” in the Hofstra case as the young men falsely accused were able to beat the charges because of modern technology. That doesn’t mean that these men will be able to go back to their normal lives.

        I agree completely with your third paragraph. It is one of the reasons I hosted the story I linked to on my main blog. I felt it was very important for that story to be heard so people could see a “what not to do” in the case of an accusation of sexual assault/rape. And I cannot stand those people who call themselves “Men’s rights activists” who seek to downplay accusations of rape just because a small percentage of women do make false accusations.

        You may be right on the 33%. I had never thought about that perhaps the reason it was viewed as ok would be because it is the only justice that some people think they can get because of how hard it can be to get actual justice via the system that is supposed to deliver justice. Of course, it is good that you disagree with the idea that people should make up claims. I am also not sure what the “false accusation” meant and if they meant actually going to the police and lying or just spreading word that this guy is a rapist.

        But I think it sounds like we can both agree that women who make accusations should be treated with respect and dignity WHILE the men who are accused are treated with the presumption of innocence until the legal system can be allowed to do what it is supposed to do. Yes?

      • My only basic disagreement is that, as noted, most sexual assault victims don’t go to the police. That doesn’t mean they won’t tell people informally. And just because it’s said informally- or even reported to the cops without a legal punishment being rendered- doesn’t mean the assault didn’t occur. I’m going to deal with this in greater depth in other essays, but we need to be cognizant of the fact that legal innocence does not equal lack of wrongdoing (with any crime, technically, but especially with rape). We have to look at what we know about any given case and try to gauge for ourselves what happened rather than outsourcing that decision to the legal system. Most likely we’ll never know every detail, but we don’t need to know everything- we’re not going vigilante style after accused rapists who don’t face any legal penalty, or at least I’m not suggesting we do. But we’ll still commonly have evidence that something wrong happened and we should respect/support the victim rather than doubt her simply because she was too traumatized to face pushing a criminal case or the high bar for a legal conviction couldn’t be overcome (e.g. the Ben Roethlisberger case).

  2. See, I look at it differently. If I was not there, I cannot possibly know what happened so I cannot determine who is telling the truth. Does this mean that I would treat the woman as a liar because I do not know what happened? Of course not.

    But this is why we need to work to make the judicial system better. It will never be perfect. The way our legal system works we are more likely to see criminals go free because we force the state to prove their case. But at the end of the day, that is much better than locking up innocent people. However, by working to increase the percentage of victims who go seek rape kits by making the questioning of the rape non-adversarial and just investigative, I think we can better serve the community and work to make our communities safer by getting more rapists locked up.

    • I think you need to give your ability to discern truth more credit. We think about situations where we were not present all the time, based on what someone tells us. Isn’t that the basis of finding a story funny? You don’t think about how you can’t possibly know what happened, you simply believe the person telling the story is being honest. When it’s more serious, we have an automatic tendency to decide, on some level, how likely it is that what we’re hearing is the truth. I’m not suggesting we do anything more than that, but it’s to our benefit to do that much and not say, in these cases, “Oh, I can’t possibly know how it went down, so I’ll make no judgments at all.” That mindset inherently assists the guilty; so long as it’s much more likely to let a rapist off the hook than a woman making a false rape claim, then overall it winds up helping rapists.

  3. Well, it could be said that our system of justice helps rapists because it forces the state to prove the case instead of forcing the accused that they had received consent. However, that doesn’t mean that we should change our system of justice. (And I am not asserting that you believe that we should make such a change).

    Take the Duke Rape case as an example. A lot of people had decided that the young men were guilty because they believed they had to be guilty. One guy was not even there at the time. But he was tried and convicted in the court of public opinion far before it was determined that Mike Nifong was just trying to have the case of his career and was shown to have committed acts of prosecutorial misconduct.

    And especially in examples where it might to to trial, I think it is very dangerous and very irresponsible of us as a society to just assume that someone is guilty (the end result of assuming that the other person is being truthful). But that doesn’t mean that we treat the woman as liars either.

    And i just want to be clear. I am talking about people who are strangers. If a friend of mine claimed to be raped, i would believe her and support her in her time of need. If a friend of mine was accused of rape, I would believe him and support him in his time of need. But strangers should not assume. They should stay out of it and let the judicial system do the job it is supposed to do.

    • I am not talking about assumptions. I am talking about giving thought to what we know about any given case and deciding for ourselves, based on available evidence, what is most likely the truth.

      There were never many solid details about the Duke case, which led to speculation and a lot of bullshit. Obviously that’s not good. On the other hand, Ben Roethlisberger’s accuser had a reasonable story, backed up by her friends, and there was very little defense from Roethlisberger’s camp apart from pointing out that no charges were filed. The NFL investigated and decided he was guilty of something, and I’ve yet to see anyone be suspended for merely putting himself in a bad position. Additionally, after the Georgia case came to pass, another woman in Las Vegas came forward with the report she had filed against him some months or years earlier (I don’t recall the exact time frame). If 8% of rape claims are false, then the odds both women are bullshitting is .64%. Thus, although we have no legal finding of guilt against Roethlisberger, I think it’s very likely he is a rapist. Does that make sense?

      If it doesn’t, the Kobe Bryant case is an even more stark example. I talked to some people at work about this during the playoffs, and no one else believed he committed rape. This is despite the fact he admitted to it publicly as part of the criminal case being dropped. If you doubt that, google “Kobe Bryant rape case”; the Wikipedia entry has the statement. I’ll freely admit that my co-workers didn’t know about this- I didn’t remember either, and only found out because I looked it up afterwards- but the upshot is that he made this admission and yet most people either don’t believe it or don’t care. OJ never admitted anything, but pretty much everyone believes he’s a murderer (for good reason). Bryant made his statement as part of a no-trial deal, the girl agreed to it, so fine, no legal punishment. But we can still say, yeah, he raped a woman and got away with one there. The fact very few people think that way is a good example of what I’m pushing to change.

      • There are evil people in this world. In that group of people include rapists. In that group of people also include people who make up stories about rape, for whatever reason. Look at the one Michael Jackson case that went to trial and he was acquitted. The evidence that the jury saw made them believe that the people brought the charges against him because he already had the label of a potential abuser and they sought to profit off that already attached label.

        Now, a lot of people do believe that Michael Jackson molested children. Even the jury in the case discussed said that while they believe he has molested children that they also believed he did not molest this one. Would I have let my son play at Michael Jackson’s house when MJ was still alive? No. Of course not. No good parent would take that chance and risk the “what if”. But that doesn’t mean that I know he was actually guilty of being anything but very weird. Why? Because I was not there.

        When it comes to Ben Roethlisberger, I cannot use the silly NFL rules against him. The NFL is very subjective when it comes to the application of rules and suspensions. Ray Lewis was involved in the death of someone and even plead guilty to a lesser charge. He received no suspension for it, yet someone who was not convicted of any crime had to sit. That makes no sense whatsoever. Now, just with MJ, would a woman be justified in saying “this guy has two women who allege sexual violence against him, perhaps I should stay clear”? Absolutely! Why risk the “what if?”?

        I think Kobe’s statement was carefully crafted in a way that would make him look like less of an ass. He was already being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion and had he said anything other than what he had said in that quote (where I cannot see him actually admitting wrongdoing, as he still says that he believes it was consensual) he would have been grilled even harder in the court of public opinion as attacking his accuser. Who would continue the criminal case when the semen and pubic hair of another man was found in her underwear, when her male friend told the court that she was upset, but another witness said she did not look distraught at all, and she was shown to have lied to the police? Of course, I was not in the room. It is also possible that her explanation of the underwear was true. But again, i was not there, so I cannot know if Kobe is a rapist or if the woman was out to get paid.
        So I refuse to judge them for things that they might be.

        But at the end of the day, regardless of how you and I disagree about the specifics about each of these cases, we do both agree that the justice system could be improved in the way it deals with accusations of sexual assualt.

      • The underlying factor in rape- the thing that makes it rape- is a lack of consent. Bryant said he thought it was consensual, but now understands how she didn’t see it that way. It doesn’t matter what he thought; if she didn’t consent, then it was rape, and he acknowledged that she didn’t consent. Whether or not he “meant” to do it, he did it.

        Apart from that, if you’re hell-bent on not believing anyone could reasonably be viewed as a rapist without a criminal conviction, we’re going to remain far apart on this and there’s not much reason to continue the conversation. You’re willing to say that women would be justified in staying away from Roethlisberger, which would only be necessary if there was good reason to believe he’s a rapist, yet you refuse to acknowledge he’s probably a rapist. That’s rape apologism, whether you mean it to be or not, and I’m not going to spend further time bashing my head against that particular wall.

  4. Bryant still believes she consented. Saying that he “understands” doesn’t mean that he is agreeing with her. I understand the pro-life argument against abortions in all cases. I disagree with the position, but I understand it.

    I do not see how saying that we should be treating people as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is an example of rape apologia… especially when I am advocating for a vastly improved justice system that encourages women to come forward and trains those responsible for investigating the allegations to do so in a way that is respectful and sensitive to the person making the claim. If we cannot live in a world with no rape (ideal) then I want to maximize the number of actual rapists we lock up while minimizing the number of those falsely convicted of rape.

    Yes, I am absolutely for all people acting in a way that makes them less likely to be a victim of a crime. And if a woman feels that she is more likely to be raped by hanging around Ben Roethlisberger then by all means she should not hang out with him. I am not saying that the reason for believing that is “good reasoning” or “not good reasoning”. If that is the way she feels then she should go with her feelings. Better safe than sorry.

    But that doesn’t mean that I then have to share the same feelings that he is rapist or even that he is a likely rapist. I do not know if he is one or not. If I knew he was one, I would be wondering why he was not rotting in jail as all rapists should. But I don’t know.

    Oh, and as a side note, I did have a nightmare pertaining to my false accusation on Friday night after I made my second response on this thread.

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