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1 in 5 U.S. women raped during their lifetimes, CDC study finds

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
University of California, Santa Barbara students protesting against sexual violence and hate crimes earlier this year.

One in five women in the United States — more than 23 million in all — have been raped during their lifetimes, and almost half of all women have experienced some other form of sexual violence, such as sexual coercion or unwanted sexual contact, according to a new report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For men the numbers are much lower, but still troubling: An estimated 1.7 percent of men (almost 2 million) have been raped during their lifetimes, and almost one quarter have been victims of other forms of sexual violence, the report found.

“Although progress has been made in efforts to prevent sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence, these forms of violence continue to exact a substantial toll upon U.S. adults,” the authors of the study write.

The findings are the result of almost 13,000 landline and cell phone interviews conducted by CDC researchers between January and December 2011.

This study adds credence to a 2007 campus sexual assault survey commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice in which one in five undergraduate women reported being sexually assaulted since entering college. Critics of that study — mostly pundits on the political right — claimed its results were not valid because the survey included only 5,500 women from two colleges.

The CDC study’s finding is also consistent with a UNICEF report published last Thursday that suggests 1 in 10 girls worldwide  — or about 120 million in total — is raped or otherwise sexually abused before age 18.

In the CDC study, 54 percent of the women and 48 percent of the men who had experienced rape or other form of sexual violence said the incident had occurred before they were 25 years old. Among female victims of rape, almost 80 percent said they were first raped before the age of 25, and 40 percent were first raped before the age of 18.

Main findings

Other key findings in the CDC study include the following:

  • Sexual violence affects a significant proportion of women of all races and ethnicities. For example, the estimates for women who were raped during their lifetimes broke down like this: 32.3 percent of multiracial women, 27.5 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 21.2 percent of non-Hispanic black women, 20.5 percent of non-Hispanic white women and 13.3 percent of Hispanic women.
  • The lifetime estimates of rape for men by race or ethnicity were not statistically reliable, the CDC researchers note, with one exception: an estimated 1.6 percent of non-Hispanic white men were raped during their lifetimes.
  • Almost 2 percent of the women surveyed — representing about 1.9 million women — said they had been raped within the previous 12 months.
  • The vast majority of rapists are men. Among the people in the survey who had been raped, 99 percent of the women and almost 80 percent of the men said their rapists had been men. Women, however, were often the perpetrators of other forms of sexual violence against men. For example, among the men in the survey who said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, 54.7 percent said the contact had come from women.
  • Most of the victims of sexual violence — men and women — know their perpetrators. Of the people in the CDC study who had been raped, 46.7 percent of the women and 44.9 percent of the men said their rapist was an acquaintance, and 45.4 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men said their rapist was an intimate partner.  

Early prevention needed

This survey has its limitations, of course. Most notably, the response rate was only 33 percent. But those who did participate in the survey were highly cooperative, the CDC researchers point out, and several steps were taken to reduce any bias resulting from people not responding.

“Because a substantial proportion of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence is experienced at a young age, primary prevention of these forms of violence must begin early,” the CDC researchers conclude.

Prevention needs to focus “on the promotion of healthy relationship behaviors and other protective factors, with the goal of helping adolescents develop these positive behaviors before their first relationships,” they add. “The early promotion of healthy relationships while behaviors are still relatively modifiable makes it more likely that young persons can avoid violence in their relationships.”

The report was published in the Sept. 5 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a CDC publication.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/08/2014 - 02:50 pm.

    A horrific statistic.

    Indeed, the most dangerous thing any woman in the world can do is to be around men. We need to raise generations of men who know better and don’t treat women as “less than” men, or as objects of conquest. I refuse to tolerate a world where 1 in 5 women are raped.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/08/2014 - 03:50 pm.

    “Indeed, the most dangerous thing any woman in the world can do is to be around men.”

    ………………………….wow. Just wow.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/08/2014 - 04:40 pm.

      I mean, exempting things like “handling spent fissile material,” “parachute-less skydiving” and “day-tripping in Mosul,” I think this is basically true.

      Did you know, that in 2011, out of 1707 instance of females murdered by men in the United States:
      1: “For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims (1,509 out of 1,601) were murdered by a male they knew.”
      2.”Sixteen times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,509 victims) than were killed by male strangers (92 victims).”
      3.”In 87 percent of all incidents where the circumstances could be determined, homicides were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.”

      Just for you, and your new home state:
      “For that year [2011], South Carolina ranked first as the
      state with the highest homicide rate among female victims killed by male offenders in single victim/single offender incidents. Its rate of 2.54 per 100,000 was more than double the national average.

      Cite: http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2013.pdf

      Also consider that of all women making ER room visits in the US, 37 percent of those visits are for domestic abuse.

      I also don’t see a lot of women shooting girls for going to school, women beheading journalists, or women carrying guns into schools and universities and movie theaters to shoot up the place.

      The point is, it’s imperative that men realize this and work to change it.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 09/08/2014 - 04:59 pm.

      Well do tell, Swift…

      if it isn’t men, who’s doing the raping?

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/09/2014 - 07:59 am.

    Read the questionnaire; it’s ridiculous. Evidently, to today’s “researcher”, rape covers everything from forced copulation to “wearing [you] down by repeatedly asking, or looking hurt”

    http://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/24726

    Psuedo-science never made a valuable discovery and infantile hysterics from the peanut gallery never solved any problem.

    • Submitted by Chris Nelson on 09/09/2014 - 08:53 am.

      Useful quotes for the future

      This one is a keeper: “Infantile hysterics from the peanut gallery never solved any problem.”

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/10/2014 - 02:56 pm.

      On hysterics

      just as an interesting aside, the etymology of the word ‘hysterical’ is tied to women’s bodies:

      “hysterical (adj.) 1610s, from Latin hystericus “of the womb,” from Greek hysterikos “of the womb, suffering in the womb,” from hystera “womb” (see uterus). Originally defined as a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus.”

      They used to lobotomize women for it or forcibly remove their internal organs for it. Fun stuff, that, the actual application of psuedo-science on human beings.

  4. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/09/2014 - 08:46 am.

    Infantile hysterics

    Out of a 4-page questionnaire, you’ve picked one bullet point question out of about 40 from a section of the questionnaire about nonphysical pressure (influence of authority, threats, etc), AND THEN misquoted it anyways (it says nothing about “looking hurt”). Also, the word rape appears nowhere in the document, and the document doesn’t seek to define it.

    Infantile hysterics indeed, Mr. Swift.

  5. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/09/2014 - 09:34 am.

    Do you know what pseudoscience means?

    Pseudoscience isn’t a scientific conclusion with which you disagree politically.

    The questions in this study appear to be reasonably well stated, giving it at least prima facie legitimacy. Is it the case that you only read the questions, not anything else, and, adding some of your own bias, leapt to the inference that the study used a construct of rape that included things like angry expressions, etc?

  6. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/09/2014 - 11:34 am.

    A closer read of Mr. Swift’s remark

    He refers to the questionnaire as ridiculous, apparently on the basis of a superficial read of only part of the study. But to me this still leaves open the question as to whether he thinks the questionnaire itself, and by extension, the very motivation for the research, is somehow “ridiculous.” Did Mr. Swift intend a wholesale rejection of this type of research?

    Anyone who knows any number of women knows that sexual violence is a major social problem. One would think that the first impulse in response to any study of the issue would involve things like curiosity, an attitude of ethical attention and seriousness, outrage and a sense of urgency over the fact we’re not doing enough.

    Instead, Mr. Swift responds, his first impulse it appears, with dismissal. Where did this come from? The fact that the research comes from a government agency, and as all good right-wingers and libertarians believe, government = bad? Or, whenever mention is made of sex crimes against women, does this trigger some reflex like “Oh, that’s feminism, therefore it’s all political b.s. anyways”?

    Then there’s the gross generalization of “todays’ “researcher”,” as if, absurdly, the typical contemporary scientist arrives at pre-determined conclusions based only on a political agenda. (Does this happen once in a great while in science? Of course!) Which is the view of many on the right when it comes to human-caused climate change. Or naturalistic evolution.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/09/2014 - 12:12 pm.

      That’s a reasonable question, Eric. I did read the whole thing; for the most part it followed a pattern so I picked that one question as a representative example; when dealing with the Minnpost censors I’ve found brevity to be a critical component to getting a comment posted.

      To your point; no, I do not argue against sociology studies; it’s just that I see so few of value. I argue against studies which begin with a pre-determined conclusion and work to fill in the blanks. I argue against twisting logical constructs into Mobius strips to accommodate a narrative. I argue against global warming for the same reason.

      Men have always used sexual attacks against women to project power. It’s a sad truth, but there it is. We deal with it harshly, as we should.

      That does not mean though, as has been opined here and elsewhere by leftists, that men are brutal, unthinking beasts that are unsafe for women to be around. It may be true that sexual violence is on the increase, but as I say, hysterical pronouncements nor exaggerated reports are going to help stop that; they just muddy the water.

      As with many so-called “research” put forth by the left as representative of science, it appears that this example doesn’t feature finding a truth as the real goal.

      • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/09/2014 - 01:56 pm.

        Further questions

        What exactly “followed a pattern”–something about the report itself, or just the questions? And what pattern would that be? Please explain precisely what your methodological concern is with this report. You use the phrase “exaggerated reports.” Where is the evidence of this?

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/09/2014 - 03:01 pm.

          Exaggerated reporting. It’s the over-broadening of what constitutes sexual violence, or even coercion for the purpose of making an issue seem more than it is.

          The report relied solely upon random phone interviews that asked non-sequitur questions.

          For instance, under “Intimate partner violence”, with an intro that states
          “Interpretation: 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”
          we’re asked “How many of your partners have ever said no one else would ever want you?”

          Really? What argument, especially among young adults, has never gone there?

          Under “Stalking” we’re asked “How many people have ever sent you unwanted e-mails, instant messages, or sent messages through websites like MySpace or Facebook”? Not 100 unwanted instances, not 10…”ever”.

          How about everyone that has ever used the internet?

          There are legitimate questions, but why muddy the water with inane, everyday occurrences? Are you not creating doubt in the respondents mind by including them? Is that the whole point? In my opinion, that’s a yes.

          Even this Minnpost piece aids in the obfuscation:
          “This study adds credence to a 2007 campus sexual assault survey commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice..”

          This specious bit of crud lends credence to a “Sexual Assault Survey”? No, it doesn’t.

          As with the global warming scam, this report has all the earmarks of fear mongering; globs of deliberately superfluous data supported by gossamer threads of fact . I’d be very interested to know if sexual violence is on the increase, but unfortunately, because of twaddle like this I have no idea, and neither do you.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 09/09/2014 - 04:42 pm.

            Well, yeah…

            actually we do. Facts are funny things, misogyny isn’t.

          • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/09/2014 - 04:48 pm.

            Criticisms with no substance

            Your analysis isn’t convincing.

            You claim there’s an “exaggerated reporting,” the evidence for which you cite the question, “How many of your partners have ever said no one else would ever want you?” You also mention that this question falls under a heading of “Intimate partner violence.”

            The first problem here is one of not paying attention or understanding what you’re quoting. That heading is clearly meant to categorize the overall subject matter, not specify that everything under it constitutes “violence” per se.

            Second, the quote you cite “How many of your partners….” is implied to be irrelevant to a survey instrument looking at intimate partner violence. You appear to not understand that when social scientists are looking for comprehensive understanding about a phenomenon, in this case intimate partner violence, it’s not enough to just ask about violence. Violence is correlated with a variety of factors, including verbal expression. How could this not be of interest from a research standpoint? You error is multifold: Not realizing the aforementioned; not seeing that we’re dealing with correlations and not necessary ingredients of violence; perhaps not understanding that it’s not just one verbal performance that is significant, but a battery of verbal statements, all of which point toward a psychological disposition toward violence (?—the study apparently doesn’t review considerations like this); failing to see how that if you remove a phenomenon from its original context, it can seem perfectly fine. Striking someone across the chest might be fine in a martial arts class, but not when done to hurt or control another in a relationship.

            You claim that this report has “all the earmarks of fear mongering,” yet the impression given by your comments is that you haven’t been able to untangle the conflation of disconcerting research findings from your own bias about what the alleged motivation of this report is about. You also use the language “gossamer threads of fact,” but provide no clear idea of what exactly you base this claim on, but one suspects it comes from the same bias that overrides rational rigor. The authors of this report fully acknowledge the response rate problem, which is utterly common in surveys like this. But—and this is even in the report itself—they claim that the results they did get likely underestimate the problem.

            If your comments reflect the cognitive care you put into your thinking about climate change, no wonder you’re a denialist.

  7. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 09/09/2014 - 03:53 pm.

    When someone repeatedly makes

    unsupported and wrong assertions: “global warming scam”, it is rather difficult to take them seriously on other topics.

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 09/09/2014 - 05:04 pm.

      Yes…

      “scam” suggests deliberate deceit. In the case of climate change this implies an incredible conspiracy theory involving thousands of scientists across disciplines, languages, universities, locations, journals and their editors, professional scientific bodies, journalists, etc. It’s utterly irrational, but this kind of scientific ignorance coupled with lack of critical thinking skills functions like a kind of low-level but pervasive insanity in the world and is, sadly, mostly the norm as far as I can tell.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/09/2014 - 05:24 pm.

        Scam doesn’t suggest deliberate deceit; it declares it. What we have is an incredible conspiracy involving thousands of scientists across disciplines, (languages?, erm no) universities, journals and their editors, professional scientific bodies, journalists, etc. all with a political or financial stake in propagating it.

        You’re right though in that is does need a body of people sporting a lack of critical thinking skills to keep the insanity alive. Of that, dishearteningly, we have a surplus.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/09/2014 - 05:19 pm.

    “But—and this is even in the report itself—they claim that the results they did get likely underestimate the problem.”

    And *how* do they conclude that? Because so many people get unsolicited e-mail, or their jilted partners look unhappy? Please.

    It’s not that I haven’t been able to “untangle the conflation of disconcerting research findings”. I, nor anyone looking for a coherent methodology can untangle the conflation of disassociated, disorganized data they’ve presented.

    The only dog I have in this fight is named truth. He’s taking a beating, but he’s a scrapper.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 09/10/2014 - 10:41 am.

      I imagine most people who read this comment thread will realize that it’s you who’s been ‘beating the dog.’

  9. Submitted by jason myron on 09/09/2014 - 05:51 pm.

    Hence your problem

    As a male, you should be first in line to rid this scourge, but instead, it’s just another “boys will be boys” excuse fest, questioning the validity of data. All real men should have a dog in this fight.

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