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Understanding the Problem of Sexual Assault

Rape and other forms of sexual violence are linked to long-term consequences for both the individual and the community as a whole. When looking at epidemiological studies, it is important to understand how rape and sexual violence are defined and how data are collected. For example, if statistics are obtained from law enforcement sources, they may only represent victims who chose to report their victimization. Phone surveys may miss portions of the population that are transient or do not have access to a telephone. Definitions of rape and sexual violence have changed over time. In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation broadened the definition of rape for the Uniform Crime Reporting Program to include “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This expanded definition allowed male victims to be counted in the rape category.

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, published in 2010, showed that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will experience rape, which they defined as “forced attempted or completed penetration.”1  The rates of sexual violence other than rape, including being forced to penetrate another person, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, were experienced by 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men sometime during their life.2  These national statistics do not adequately reflect the experience of populations where rape and sexual violence occur in much higher numbers. The Amnesty International Report Maze of Injustice states that 34.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women, or more than 1 in 3, will be raped during their lifetime.3  The population of people with disabilities also has a higher risk of sexual assault. A study done in North Carolina found that women with a disability were four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women without a disability.4  In Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 64 percent of respondents reported being a victim of sexual assault. Many factors increase an individual’s risk for sexual assault.5 SANE programs should note which populations are at greater risk and which situations increase the risk of experiencing sexual violence for the patients they will see.