One in Five U.S. Women Have Been Raped, CDC Survey Shows

One in five women in the U.S. has been raped at some point in their lives, a survey found, and most victims experienced sexual violence before age 25.

The report, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is based on national survey data collected in 2011. The findings were similar to a survey a year earlier. More than 12,000 interviews of men and women were conducted in English and Spanish over a year.

More than 19 percent of women and almost 2 percent of men have been raped at one point in their lives, according to the 2011 data, an increase of about 1 percentage point from a year earlier. In addition, 44 percent of women and 23 percent of men said they have experienced other forms of sexual violence in their lives, including unwanted sexual contact and sexual coercion.

“That’s down from 20 years ago, but it’s still an overwhelming number,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Washington-based Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Today’s report comes as increased attention has been paid to rape and sexual misconduct, particularly on college campuses. Students nationwide have held protests about the frequency of sexual violence and how cases have been handled by universities.

Young Victims

The survey found that 79 percent of female rape victims and 71 percent of male victims were first assaulted before they were 25 years old.

Incidents of sexual violence in teens and young adults are “often social based, an acquaintance through school or work,” Berkowitz said by telephone. “It’s very common that one or both were drinking.”

The majority of victims of all types of sexual violence knew their perpetrators. About 60 percent of women who experienced alcohol or drug-facilitated rape were victimized by an acquaintance, the report found.

Universities are failing to address cases sufficiently, said Berkowitz. More than 40 percent of 440 colleges surveyed hadn’t investigated a sexual assault in the past five years, according to a July report by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat.

Multiracial Women

Multiracial women were the most affected by sexual violence, with 32 percent raped at some point in their lives, the survey found. That compares with 28 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native women, 21 percent of black women, 21 percent of non-Hispanic white women and 14 percent of Hispanic women.

“Although previous research has suggested explanations for elevated rates of violence among American Indian/Alaska Native women,” including “elevated poverty, social and geographic isolation, and a higher likelihood of alcohol use by the perpetrator, little is known about why multiracial women are at greater risk for these forms of violence,” the authors of the report wrote.

Better research into the prevalence and nature of sexual violence is needed, said Berkowitz, as it affects public policy. For instance, understanding the extent to which incidents are criminal in nature could influence the role the government and law enforcement.

“I’d give us a B minus,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still hundreds of thousands of crimes that occur every year, so we’ve got a substantial way to go.”

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