What Does CDC’s New Data About Sexual Assault Reveal?

The Centers For Disease Control released its National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey yesterday and the findings throw a fork in many common perceptions surrounding sexual assault and its victims. Contrary to the stereotype that a rape victim is “some slut in a bar,” the demographics found to be at the highest risk for sexual assault were preteen boys and adolescent girls.
Of the 16,507 completed interviews analyzed (9,086 female and 7,421 male) in 2010, it was found that one in five women, and one in 71 men have been raped. Of the female victims, more than half reported the perpetrator as their intimate partner, and 40 percent reported them to be an acquaintance.  Likewise, over one half of male victims reported their perpetrators to be acquaintances, and only 15% identified them as strangers. The young ages of victimization are surprising as well. Forty-two percent of all female victims of completed rape were assaulted before the age of 18; likewise, 27.8 percent of the male victims were assaulted at age 10 or younger. Men make up the majority of all perpetrators of sexual violence against both men and women. However, females did account for the majority of perpetrators in cases of violence against men outside of sexual violence (i.e. domestic abuse).

This survey’s findings are crucial because they debunk the common myths that rape is a female-only issue and the perpetrator is a stranger who jumps out of the bushes.  Culturally, rape victims are assumed to be young, attractive women who cocktease and dress suggestively, which perpetuates the victim-blaming “she was asking for it” mentality. In accordance, their perpetrators are often imagined as lone men lurking in the shadows. Only after we realize the majority of victims and rapists fall outside of this stereotype can more effective prevention and rehabilation programs come into place.

Additionally, this study should to be lauded for its exploration of sexual violence beyond the terms of forced penetration, and the investigation of prominent, yet less publicized issues such as intimate partner violence and stalking. After all, a need for power is at the root of all violence, sexual or otherwise. It makes sense to frame domestic violence and stalking that way as well.

What is your response to the study? Are you surprised by the findings?

[Centers For Disease Control Report (PDF file) via The Good Men Project]