There is a long history of controversy over statistics on the prevalence of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the U.S. The controversy revolves around the question “Just how big is the problem?” Using faulty data or imperfect interpretations of reliable data – whether to minimize or unduly exaggerate this grave social and public health problem – does a cruel disservice to those among us whom we know have been sexually assaulted.
Sex on Campus
Nationwide, more than two thirds of college women (71.5%) and college men (69.7%) report that they had a sexual partner within the past year, and approximately half of the women (52.3% ) and men (45.4%) report that they engaged in consensual vaginal sex in the past 30 days. (2)
In spring 2009, 61.5% of the 457 female students at Holy Cross who responded to a campus-wide survey reported that they had participated in consensual sexual intercourse since starting college, and 67.6% had engaged in oral sex. (3)
The takeaway: Most college students are sexually active by choice.
Sexual Assault on Campus
Nationwide, the best estimate is that between 1 and 6 (16%) and 1 in 8 (13%) adult women have experienced a completed rape in their lifetime. A recent, reliable estimate is that 14.8% of women have been raped at some point in their lifetime, and another 3% faced an attempted rape. (4)
In spring 2010, roughly 5% of college women in U.S. colleges reported that within the last academic year they encountered someone who attempted or actually penetrated them (vaginally, anally. or orally) against their will, and 7.4% reported sexual touching against their will.
Twenty-two (5%) of the 457 Holy Cross women reported “yes” to the question “Have you been raped?” since starting college, 32 (7.4%) also reported “yes” that they had been physically forced to give oral sex, and 30 (6.9%) reported “yes” to having encountered a man using some degree of physical force to engage in sexual intercourse. Whether the Holy Cross women personally defined their unwanted sexual encounter as rape, 59 (13.5%) of the 457 women reported an experience while a college student that Massachusetts law defines as rape.
Barely 37% of the women at Holy Cross who divulged a coercive sexual assault recognized that their experience fully met Massachusetts’ legal definition of rape; that is, they did not perceive themselves as rape victims. (3)
Almost two thirds of completed campus rapes take place in the victim’s residence.(5-6)
Three quarters (78%) of adult women in the U.S. who were raped or sexually assaulted reported that the assailant was an intimate partner, friend, or acquaintance.
Since you started reading these statistics, someone in the U.S. has been sexually assaulted. National estimates show that every 2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted, and every 21 hours there is another rape on an American college campus. (6)
(3) Frega, J., Ring, K., & McCarthy, L. (2009). Women’s experiences with unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault. Unpublished manuscript presented at the Academic Conference, April 2009, College of the Holy Cross.
(4) Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of
Violence Against Women (NCJ 183781). National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs,
(5) Fisher, B. S., Cullen, F. T., & Turner M. G. (2000). The sexual victimization of college women. Washington: Department of Justice (US), National Institute of Justice, Publication No. NCJ 182369.
(6) Truman, J. L., & Rand, M. R. (2010). National Crime Victimization Study: Criminal Victimization, 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Criminal Statistics.