U.S. Rape Statistics

As part of the ongoing discussion regarding Silence Is the Enemy (go read, click, donate), there is a commenter, Thomas, in this thread who is terribly concerned that rape statistics in the U.S. are inflated. He’s citing this article by Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers (PhD in philosophy) suggesting that several studies on rape prevalence shouldn’t be quoted because, well, you can read the reasons if you feel like it.

However, one helpful thing that Sommers does point out in this 2004 article is that the Bureau of Justice Statistics annual criminal victimization survey was revamped to ask about rape and sexual assault directly. It hadn’t before 2004. Really. This means that the numbers are available, although Thomas didn’t go out to find them himself.

So I did.

The question as asked in the survey is pretty simple and does not describe what is included in sexual activity. When kids who take abstinence pledges don’t seem to understand that oral or anal sex is still sex, this is an important consideration. Nor does it specify what constitutes coercion.

Incidents involving forced or unwanted sexual acts are often difficult to talk about. (Other than any incidents already mentioned,) have you been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by –

(a) Someone you didn’t know before –
(b) A casual acquaintance –
(c) Someone you know well?

The overall annual rate was 0.1%. Note, that’s an annual rate–0.1% of people in the U.S. over the age of 12 reported being raped or sexually assaulted in 2007. Those numbers are 0.01% for males and 0.18% for females. 71% of those assaulted were under age 25.

Doing some not-so-fancy multiplication of annual rates by years at that rate and adjusting for the gender difference, that gives me a 5.5% victimization rate for women before age 25, 10.4% lifetime, only counting assaults that happened after age 12. This doesn’t count revictimization separately, because the data doesn’t capture that. However, given the looseness of the question, I’m not going to sweat it.

Now these numbers are significantly lower than the numbers Sommers criticizes, 27.5% by college age and 12.5% lifetime. However, there’s one more thing at the Bureau of Justice Statistics site.

Rape rates (and note that this just includes rape, not other sexual assault) have been dropping along with rates of other violent crime. The study on rape among college women was done in 1985, when rates of rape were approximately three times higher than they are now. That means we’re looking at a one-in-six statistic instead of a one-in-four statistic at that time. Are you comforted?

The lifetime rates that displease Sommers, which were generated in 1990, look particularly grim if that same three-times multiplier is applied. Even counting for significant revictimization, which would become a greater factor over time, the one-in-eight figure from 1990 looks quite reasonable, if not conservative.

Nope, I’m unimpressed with the claims that anyone is “crying wolf.”

U.S. Rape Statistics

29 thoughts on “U.S. Rape Statistics

  1. 1

    Ah, Christina Hoff Summers, the go-to gal for info on how terribly hard it is to be a man (discrimination!), and how feminist women are trying to destroy America. That report is very interesting. The gender specific stats – 0.1% for males and 1.8% for females – really shows why it makes sense to frame rape as a women's issue, even though it does happen to men too (and I realize the numbers for men may be under-reported, but the difference is so vast that it's unlikely underreporting is the only reason for it). I do suspect that the lifetime stats can be misleading, though, because it seems to assume that the odds of assault are evenly distributed in the population. Unfortunately some people are victimized multiple times over the years and that throws the simple calculation off for the population in general. But I haven't crunched the numbers myself, so I could be off target here.

  2. 2

    Hi Stephanie!This is Thomas.Thanks for looking up the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Justice!Unfortunately, you misread the Bureau of Justice's report: the victimization rate is not a percentage number, it is the number of victims per 1,000 people.You have overstated your calculations by a factor of 10!If you correct your math, you get a lifetime victimization rate of 1% (and 0.5% before age 25).Please correct me if I'm wrong!As I mentioned before, the reason why it matters to me, is because I have seen evidence of feminist researchers fudging numbers, and then using false statistics to justify pieces of legislation that have destroyed men's lives!Of course, any number of rapes other than ZERO is too high!!

  3. 3

    Thanks, Anonymous. I had made the adjustment in my numbers (wherever I had to do a calculation) but forgot to go back and make it in theirs. It's fixed now.

  4. 5

    So then is it fair to say that the lived experience of older women in the US is more likely to include rape for themselves and those close to them, that these women and their allies forced, through various programs like the college rape crisis centers, new laws, awareness programs, education, aright down to logos on tee-shirts, a change in society, and this has caused rape rates to go down measurably … despite efforts of the right wing to deny the reality of rape? (For the time being?)

  5. 6

    Well, the overall rates of violent crime also declined, but that's a factor of two rather than three. So it's certainly fair to say something had a disproportionate effect on rape. Whether that's specifically the anti-rape programs or the impact of the feminist movement on raising children or something other factor is much harder to say.

  6. 7

    Well, your mail patriarchal heteronormative biases may be blinding you to the fact that reducing rape may actually be one of the targeted efforts that could have many other coat tails…. :)If one phenomenon surges ahead and the others follow behind, this is what it would look like! Or, it could be as you say, that rape reduction has extra effort going into it, or the general anti-crime efforts that have been afoot have been for some reason more effective with rape.Or, yet another possibility, the most likely, and the most, I'm afraid, sinister…..

  7. 10

    My hypothesis is that you are seeing the dissipation of a war-time, Vietnam era bulge in rape statistics. That is an alternative to the hypothesis that the feminist movement had a strong effect. (And of course there are other possibilities).

  8. 14

    Jason, I think reporting rates are pretty important, although Razib isn't terribly good at factoring in, or even mentioning, squishy human variables like that. A social scientist he is not. Looking at the two graphs, what strikes me most is the implications for reporting rates. Wow. I may have to put both sets of numbers on the same graph when I get a chance.

  9. 15

    Ben Franklin was a mail patriarch.Greg, your Vietnam thesis would show up in the demographics of the perps. The underlying demographics of violent crime are tied to the number of young males — total in (IIRC) 15-25 age range. That has a huge correlation to violent crime of all sorts.On the other hand, your Vietnam thesis would predict that a subset of violent crime has different demographics from the rest, and that demographic anomaly is moving relative to the background.

  10. 16

    It's a bit confusing to try to compare the two sources, but one of the differences seems to be that this source is looking at "rape or sexual assault" and is based on a survey of 76,000 households, while this source is only looking at "forcible rape" that was actually reported to law enforcement. The definition of "forcible rape" used by the FBI is "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Assaults and attempts to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded." So it doesn't include the sexual assault of men, and it doesn't include sexual assaults that do not involve "force". I'm not sure whether the assault of someone who is intoxicated or otherwise unable to give consent would be included in those stats or not. It's also interesting that while the rate "forcible rapes" decreased overall between 2006 and 2007, it actually increased in nonmetropolitan counties (data here). There's also significant variation of the reported forcible rape rate from state to state (highest in Alaska 77/100k, lowest in New York 15/100k) and from city to city. It's unclear how much of that variation is due to actual differences in the crime rate, differences in reporting rate or differences in the way the statistics were compiled. It's probably a combination of those things, but I think that uncertainty makes it hard to use the data to make any sweeping generalizations.

  11. 17

    Peggy –The gender specific stats – 0.1% for males and 1.8% for females – really shows why it makes sense to frame rape as a women's issue, even though it does happen to men too (and I realize the numbers for men may be under-reported, but the difference is so vast that it's unlikely underreporting is the only reason for it).The problem I have with your assertion that male underreporting wouldn't make up the difference is that there are important gender specific variables to consider. See this paper for a discussion of men and reporting issues. It is not about rape, but the same issues would apply. Indeed, given the social stigmas attached to male rape victims, I would say that the same variables are actually enhanced in this context.

  12. 19

    The biggest problem that leads to these stats being perceived as being inflated is that rape, and the dialogue of rape, is centered on the idea that rape only happens if a male does it.Sure, bu now we all know that rape in the gay community is an issue, as is coercive sex, but beyond that, the ideology, or 'rapeology' is entirely focused on men as perpetrattors, and men have been forced into internalizing themselves as potential rapists st the expense of describing their own experience; much less probably not 'getting laid' if they sound even slightly 'anti-woman'.Girls are trained from early ages to describe male touch as bad–whereas the same touch by women is not; boys are taught from early ages to 'be nice to girls' at the expense of that same reciprocal respect for themselves; boys are taught that sexual attention from girls is a good thing, rather than female aggression and social engineering.By the time the stats are collected, the respondents have been so inundated with anti-male definitions of both violence and rape, that it is imposible to have assess any but the most rudimentary validity, as in the case of stranger rape; but impossible to assess the actual occurrence of rape.

  13. 20

    DuWayne: I don't doubt that there are important gender-specific variables or that men are less likely to report rape than women. It's just that the difference is so vast, it seems unlikely to me that just underreporting could make up that difference. In your paper, you talk about the ratio of depression diagnosed between women and men as being 2:1, and that being potentially due to under-diagnosis of depression in men. In the case of sexual assault we are talking about a ratio of 18:1. If you assume that 100% of women who have been sexually assaulted answered "yes" to the assault question in the survey, that would mean only about 6% of men reported their sexual assaults if the ratio of women to men assaulted is close to 1:1. Is there any data that suggests that's the disparity would be that great (keeping in mind those numbers are from an survey, rather than reports to law enforcement)?

  14. 22

    Will: I don't know how meaningful it would be to compare one country to another when there are so many variables involved. Even within the US there is a lot of variation in rape statistics both between states and within states. You might get a general feel by looking at the detailed FBI data and comparing it to other demographic information.

  15. 23

    Peggy, normally I would agree with you, but the US and Canada are awfully alike, so much so that people will compare violence in Seattle and Vancouver when they want to get an idea about the effect of gun laws.Hmm. Which suggests it might be more useful to look at rape statistics for, say, Minneapolis and Winnipeg.

  16. 24

    Did a little more googling, and the way the countries compile crime figures does not make this easy. Sigh.One reason I was wondering about Canada is because it might be useful when considering Greg's theory about Vietnam and US rape statistics.

  17. 25

    Real, I wanted to come back to your statement. If you'll note, there were two points in the discussion at Greg's where people pointed out to men that the experiences they were basing their arguments on might well not be healthy–that they should question those. I may not talk a lot about the sexual assault of men specifically. That's for two reasons. One is that if we address the causes of sexual assault of females, particularly as children, we're covering much of the same ground for males. The other is that, male victims face almost completely different social stigmatization than female victims. I'm not qualified to address those differences, other than to note them as I'm doing here and say that they're completely wrong. I'm not willing to wade in, spout off and possibly hurt someone who's already been victimized once.

  18. 26

    Will: While I give you Seattle and Vancouver being very similar, I don't think that translates into "USA" and "Canada" being very similar. And there is a lot variation in both countries – Vancouver and Seattle are likely more similar to each other than either is to a fishing village in Newfoundland or a rural town in Mississippi – so I don't think sweeping generalizations at the country level are very meaningful.

  19. 27

    Peggy, I agree comparisons are tricky. Sometimes differences within countries are greater than differences between countries, etc. I did a little googling to try to get a sense of whether the generally accepted percentage of unreported rapes is different in the two countries, and that hasn't been easy to find, either. So, uh, ignore everything I've said in this thread. *g*

  20. 28

    What to thank you for doing the legwork on the stats on this. I've been poking around for recent solid numbers and this post was extremely helpfulTim

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