Almost 1 in 5 Women in U.S. Have Been Sexually Assaulted

Almost one in five U.S. women have been sexually assaulted, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a 2010 survey of 16,507 adults, 18.3 percent of women and 1.4 percent of men said they had been victims of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives, the CDC said today in the first report of its kind.

Victims of domestic violence, rape or stalking are more likely to suffer long-term health problems such as frequent headaches, chronic pain and difficulty sleeping, the CDC report said. Previous research by the health agency suggests such violence costs the U.S. more than $8 billion in medical expenses, mental-health costs and lost productivity.

“The numbers from the first year of data collection are astounding,” Linda Degutis, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said on a conference call with reporters. The survey is the first to provide national estimates and data from all states on sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking, she said.

About 1.3 million women were sexually assaulted in the 12 months prior to the survey, according to the report. About 5.2 million women, and 1.4 million men, were stalked in that period. More than 12 million women and men said they had been the victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the previous year, Degutis said.

“Most of these victims first experienced these types of violence before they were 25 years old, often during their teenage years,” she said.

Previous Report Dwarfed

The CDC figures dwarf a Department of Justice estimate that 188,380 sexual assaults occurred in the U.S. last year, a 24 percent decline from 2009. That study, released in September, surveyed 40,974 U.S. households.

“The measurement of rape or sexual assault represents one of the most serious challenges in the field of victimization research,” the Justice Department said in its report. “Rape and sexual assault remain sensitive subjects that are difficult to ask about in the survey context.”

Studies show most sexual assaults go unreported, in part because victims may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid that police won’t believe an assault occurred, according to the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice.

State Statistics

Alaska had the highest rate of sexual violence against women in the CDC survey, with 29 percent reporting that they had been raped in their lifetimes. Oregon and Nevada followed, with 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Virginia had the lowest prevalence of rape, with 11 percent of women saying they had been victims of the crime. Tennessee had the second-lowest rate with 13.6 percent, followed by Delaware with 14.2 percent.

Oklahoma had the highest rate of domestic violence, and North Dakota had the lowest. About 49 percent of women surveyed in Oklahoma, and 25 percent in North Dakota, said they had been raped, assaulted or stalked by a partner in their lifetimes.

“The prevalence of sexual and intimate-partner violence is staggering,” Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, said today in an e-mail. “Given that victimization is starting younger, we need to do more to prevent violence with intervention programs for children and adolescents.”

More than 42 percent of female rape victims said the crime occurred before they had reached the age of 18, and 80 percent said they were raped before the age of 25, according to the report. Almost 28 percent of male rape victims said the crime occurred when they were 10 years old or younger.

The Atlanta-based CDC developed the study, known as the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, with the Defense Department and the National Institute of Justice. The agency began collecting surveillance data last year from English- and Spanish-speaking adults living in the U.S.

The aim of the study is to help officials “stop the violence before it happens,” Degutis said.

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