U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Victims and the Individuals Who Commit Sexual Violence

Date Published
October 26, 2010

Research on sexual violence indicates that—

Sexual violence may occur in any type of relationship, but most of those who commit the crime of sexual assault are known to their victims. Among victims ages 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the person who committed the assault. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims said that they were assaulted by an intimate partner, relative, friend or acquaintance. A study of sexual victimization of college women showed that 9 out of 10 victims knew the person who sexually victimized them. [1] One research project found that 34 percent of women surveyed were victims of sexual coercion by a husband or intimate partner in their lifetime. [2]

Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than are men. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) sampled 8,000 women and 8,000 men and found that 1 in 6 women (17 percent) and 1 in 33 men (3 percent) reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives. [3]

Women are significantly more likely than men to be injured during an assault. In one NIJ-funded study, 31.5 percent of female rape victims, compared with 16.1 percent of male rape victims, reported being injured during their most recent rape. [4]

Sexual violence may begin early in life. Researchers also found that among female rape victims surveyed, more than half (54 percent) were younger than age 18; 32.4 percent were ages 12–17; and 21.6 percent were younger than age 12 at time of victimization. [5]

Early abuse and later victimization. Although child sexual abuse before age 13 is not by itself a risk factor for adult sexual victimization or domestic violence, girls who were victimized before turning 12 and then again as adolescents (ages 13–17) were at much greater risk of both types of victimization as adults than any other women. [6]

Assault among college women. NIJ has funded multiple studies related to sexual victimization of college women.

The Sexual Victimization of College Women study, completed in 2000, found that 2.8 percent of college females had experienced either a completed (1.7 percent) or an attempted (1.1 percent) rape within a 9-month timeframe. The rate found in this study was 11 times higher than the rate found in the NCVS, although this is due in part to the different methods used by the two surveys. [7]

More recently, the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study found 13.7% of undergraduate women had been victims of at least one completed sexual assault since entering college: 4.7% were victims of physically forced sexual assault; 7.8% of women were sexually assaulted when they were incapacitated after voluntarily consuming drugs, alcohol or both; and 0.6% were sexually assaulted when they were incapacitated after having been given a drug without their knowledge. [8]

Additionally, a national-level study on drug-facilitated, incapacitated, and forcible rape, that included a sample of college women, found that approximately 673,000 of nearly 6 million current college women (11.5%) have ever been raped.  Of those, approximately twelve percent were reported to law enforcement. [9]

Sexual assault in intimate partner relationships. The few studies that measure sexual assault separately from physical assault within intimate partner relationships report that 40 to 50 percent of battered women are also sexually assaulted by their partners.[10],[11],[12] In another study, researchers found that 68 percent of physically abused women reported that their partners sexually assaulted them. [13]

Rape and sexual assault in prison. NIJ has sponsored several studies concerning rape and sexual assault within correctional facilities, including studies that look at prevalence, incarcerated person and staff perceptions, and how state and local correctional facilities are complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.

Date Published: October 26, 2010