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Approximately a Third of Americans Have Been the Victim of Sexual Violence

The CDC’s latest rape and sexual violence statistics are just as disturbing as ever

(Colin Schultz)
smithsonian.com

The latest report from the CDC on the prevalence of sexual violence in America draws on interviews conducted with 12,727 Americans and finds that “[a] substantial proportion of U.S. female and male adults have experienced some form of sexual violence, stalking, or intimate partner violence at least once during their lifetimes.”

What, exactly, is a "substantial" proportion? To be specific, an estimated 19.3 percent of American women—23 million people—and 1.7 of men—an additional 2 million Americans—have been raped, according to the CDC's report.  

In addition, 43.9 percent of women and 23.4 percent of men have been the victims of "sexual violence other than rape." The CDC includes in this type of violence a range of behaviors—being flashed, unwanted kissing or fondling, being coerced—but not physically—into penetration, “being made to penetrate a perpetrator" and other unwanted sexual expenciences.

The new CDC numbers don't stray far from those presented in a 2010 study by the agency, which found that 18.3 percent of women and 1.4 percent of American men have been raped and that 35.6 percent of women and 28.5 percent of men have been raped, stalked or been the victim of intimate partner violence. 

These latest statistics outline an ongoing threat to Americans' health and safety. While sexual violence on college campuses and in the military has made more visible in recent years, many sexual assaults go unreported. The agency's new findings also suggest that sexual violence is a problem that starts young: most victims (nearly 80 percent) were first assaulted when they were younger than 25. 

The perpetrators of sexual violence, the CDC found, are overwhelmingly men:

For female rape victims, an estimated 99.0% had only male perpetrators. In addition, an estimated 94.7% of female victims of sexual violence other than rape had only male perpetrators. For male victims, the sex of the perpetrator varied by the type of sexual violence experienced. The majority of male rape victims (an estimated 79.3%) had only male perpetrators. For three of the other forms of sexual violence, a majority of male victims had only female perpetrators: being made to penetrate (an estimated 82.6%), sexual coercion (an estimated 80.0%), and unwanted sexual contact (an estimated 54.7%). For noncontact unwanted sexual experiences, nearly half of male victims (an estimated 46.0%) had only male perpetrators and an estimated 43.6% had only female perpetrators.

One strategy for stopping sexual violence—particularly on college campuses—that's gaining attention is "bystander intervention." The idea is that potentially dangerous situations can be derailed by action from onlookers. The White House has included bystander intervention in efforts to curb campus assault, and as Time reports, there's evidence that it is a good idea:

[R]esearch shows that bystander intervention programs actually work. A study at UMass found that men who’d had bystander intervention training were 26% more likely to step in to stop an assault than ones who hadn’t. So in the murky bog of sexual assault prevention, the importance of interrupting bad situations (from girls as well as guys) may be one of the only things that’s becoming clear.

The CDC also works on violence prevention, and reports like this new one are part of combatting sexual violence, too. When trying to fix a problem, it's helpful to know what you're up against.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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