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What We Know and Room to Grow: Sexual Violence in the U.S.

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, TPN.Health is sharing the some of the realities around sexual violence in the United States.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), sexual violence includes rape, sexual assault, incest, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual touch or contact, masturbating in public spaces, exposing sexual body parts and sharing sexual images without consent, sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, and non-consensual voyeurism.

Sexual violence affects all communities and excludes no demographics. 

In 2015, the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) reported that, in their lifetimes, 43.6 percent of women and 28.4 percent of men experienced sexual violence involving contact. Twenty percent of women and approximately 2.6 percent of men experienced attempted or completed rape. 

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that people ages 18-34, ranking the highest in sexual assault rate, occupy fifty-four percent of sexual assault victims. Twenty-eight percent of victims are ages 35-64, fifteen percent are ages 12-17, and three percent are over age 65.

RAINN reports that transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming (TGQN) college students have greater risk of being sexually assaulted than non-TGQN college students. Compared to four percent of non-TGQN male students and eighteen percent of non-TGQN female students, twenty-one percent of TGQN college students have been sexually assaulted.

Compared to all races included in sexual violence data, Native Americans are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetime, according to RAINN reports. 

Sexual violence can occur in any relational context.

In 2015, NISVS reported that, in their lifetimes 18.3 percent of women and 8.2 percent of men experienced sexual violence involving contact in the context of an intimate partnership.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP), it is estimated that almost ten percent of intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors identifying as LGBTQ have has experienced sexual assault in those partnerships (Human Rights Campaign).

RAINN reports that approximately thirty-four percent of childhood sexual abuse cases involve incest.

RAINN reports that in prisons, a majority (sixty percent) of inmate sexual violence cases occur with prison staff members as perpetrators .

“Sexual assault is likely the most underreported crime in the United States.” —Jessica Henderson Daniel, PhD, President of the American Psychological Association (2018)

According to RAINN criminal justice reports, only 25% of sexual assault cases are actually reported. The data collected on sexual violence from 2005-2010 illustrates a variety of reasons why the victim did not report to the police. The top three reasons were that the victim feared retaliation (20%), believed that officials would not take any action to help (13%), and believed it was a personal matter (13%). Likewise, it is important to remember data-collection on sexual violence is subject to limitations of individual collection methods, such as the measure of self-report.

In honoring Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is paramount to keep in mind the voices and stories that historically have been excluded from conversations and/or data collection on sexual violence because of limited narratives that have historically guided attitudes on sexual violence. For instance, it was not until the 1980s that state laws begin to recognize that males cold be victims of rape. Likewise, for most of the of the nation’s history, sodomy laws, the last of which was abolished in 2003, were the only context to examine sexual violence in same-sex interactions (Richards & Marcum, 2015). Sodomy laws, criminalizing a breadth of sexual acts including oral sex and anal sex even in heterosexual interactions, were discriminatory of the LGBTQ community by nature (Richards & Marcum, 2015). 

Given the the pattern of exclusion regarding the LGBTQ community’s participation in public sexual violence dialogue, data on this community’s trends in sexual violence is limited and subject to the unique inconsistency of having no standardized data-collection measure (Richards & Marcum, 2015). Although in recent years the CDC’s NISVS has included data outlining sexual violence trends among those identifying as lesbian, gay, and bisexual, the body of research on sexual violence in the LGBTQ community has a long way to go. 

The historic ostracism of the LGBTQ community in the United States is just one example of a variety of population subsets that have been alienated from the sexual health dialogue-at-large, specifically that of sexual violence. The gendered, ableist, classist, and racist constructs that have placed limitations on sexual violence studies are deeply rooted in our history and, by degrees, are being addressed in the public sphere. Still, we have room only for progress.

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About Sexual Assault. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010 (2013).

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2010-2016 (2017)

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders (1997); ii. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Crimes Against the Elderly, 2003-2013 (2014).

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement (2000).

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-2012 (2013).

Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). Sexual Assault and the LGBTQ Community. Retrieved from

Incest. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Richards, T. N., & Marcum, C. D. (2015). Sexual victimization: then and now. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Smith, S.G., Zhang, X., Basile, K.C., Merrick, M.T., Wang, J., Kresnow, M., Chen, J. (2018). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Statement of APA President Regarding the Science Behind Why Women May Not Report Sexual Assault (2018, September 24). Retrieved from

Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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