Rape in the United States

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Rape rates in the U.S. per 1000 people, 1973-2003.

Nearly 90,000 people reported being raped in the United States in 2008. There is an arrest rate of 25%.[1] According to the National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 39,590 men and 164,240 women were victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault in 2008.[2] Of those committed by a single offender, 78.1% were committed by men and 18.5% were committed by women, with 3.5% by an unknown attacker. Of those committed by multiple offenders, 75.7% were committed by only men and 24.3% were committed by both men and women.[3]

There are varying data on the percentage of rapes in the United States that are gang rapes. A 2006 report from the National Institute of Justice based on the 1995-1996 National Violence Against Women Survey found that 21.8% of rapes of women and 16.7% of rapes of men in the United States are gang rapes.[4] The National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 6.8% of rapes committed in 2008 were gang rapes.[3]


In the United States, at the Federal level, the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) definitions are used when collating national crime statistics from states across the US. The UCR's definition of rape was changed on January 1, 2013 to remove the requirement of force against a female and to include a wider range of types of penetration.[5] The new definition reads:

At the state level, there is no uniform legal definition of rape ; instead, each state has their own laws. These definitions can vary considerably, but many of them do not use the term rape anymore, instead using sexual assault, criminal sexual conduct, sexual abuse, sexual battery, etc.

One legal definition commonly used within the United States Armed Forces is found in the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice [Title 10, Subtitle A, Chapter 47X, Section 920, Article 120], which defines rape as:


See also: Rape statistics

According to United States Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were overall 191,670 victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005.[7] The U.S. Department of Justice compiles statistics on crime by race, but only between and among people categorized as black or white.


Rape prevalence among women in the U.S. (the percentage of women who experienced rape at least once in their lifetime so far) is in the range of 15–20%, with different studies disagreeing with each other. (National Violence against Women survey, 1995, found 17.6% prevalence rate;[8] a 2007 national study for the Department of Justice on rape found 18% prevalence rate.[9]) According to a March 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1995 to 2010, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault declined 58%, from 5.0 victimizations per 1,000 females age 12 or older to 2.1 per 1,000. Assaults on young women aged 12-17 declined from 11.3 per 1,000 in 1994-1998 to 4.1 per 1,000 in 2005-2010; assaults on women aged 18-34 also declined over the same period, from 7.0 per 1,000 to 3.7.[10][11]

Most rape research and reporting to date has concentrated on male-female forms of rape. Research on male-male and female-male has commenced. However, almost no research has been done on female-female rape.

A 1997 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 91% of rape victims are female and 9% are male, and that 99% of arrestees for rape are male.[12] However, these statistics are based on reports of "forced penetration", female on male attacks are categorized as "made to penetrate" (unless penetration of a male occurs using an object or other means) and are not included in official rape statistics, but are assessed separately under sexual violence. Denov (2004) states that societal responses to the issue of female perpetrators of sexual assault "point to a widespread denial of women as potential sexual aggressors that could work to obscure the true dimensions of the problem."[13]

Rape is usually intraracial. The National Violence Against Women Survey found that 34% of American Indian female respondents had experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. The rapist was more likely to be a non-Native than a Native.[14]

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that 13.1% of lesbians, 46.1% of bisexual women, and 17.4% of heterosexual women have been raped.[15]

In a San Francisco study, 68% of trans women and 55% of trans men reported having been raped.[16]

Rate of victimization[edit]

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the adjusted per-capita victimization rate of rape has declined from about 2.4 per 1000 people (age 12 and above) in 1980 (that is, 2.4 persons from each 1000 people 12 and older were raped during that year) to about 0.4 per 1000 people, a decline of about 85%. There are several possible explanations for this, including stricter laws, education on security for women, and a correlation with the rise in Internet pornography.[17] But other government surveys, such as the Sexual Victimization of College Women study, critique the NCVS on the basis it includes only those acts perceived as crimes by the victim, and report a much higher victimization rate.[18]

Some types of rape are excluded from official reports altogether, because a significant number of rapes go unreported even when they are included as reportable rapes, and also because a significant number of rapes reported to the police do not advance to prosecution.[19] In 2012, the FBI updated its definition of rape to include non-forcible rape and some forms of male rape, but has been criticized for excluding other types such as males "forced to penetrate".

Rapes are rarely reported to law enforcement. The 2007 report for the Department of Justice shows only 18% cases of forcible rape reported in the general population sample (even less so for drug-facilitated rape, 10%; numbers for the sample of college women are yet lower, with 16% reporting for forcible rape).[9] One factor relating to this under reporting may be the misconception that most rapes are committed by strangers.[20] In reality, studies indicate the following, widely variable, numbers:

Relationship of victim to rapist

Source: Current or former intimate partner Another relative Friend or acquaintance Stranger
US Bureau of Justice statistics 26% 7% 38% 26%

About four out of ten sexual assaults take place at the victim's own home.[21]

College and university campuses[edit]

See also: Campus rape

Definitions of rape can vary and rape is an under-reported crime. Since not all rapes are reported, researchers instead rely on surveys of student and nonstudent populations to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence. Survey design including the questions and the sample quality and scope can also create wide ranges in rates.[22]

Rate or sexual assault in decline. Rape, a subset of sexual assault, took place 3.1 times per 1,000 (0.3%)[22]

The most recent study, conducted by U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, represents a longitudinal study of US women from 1995 to 2013. For the year 2013, the study found that college aged women (regardless of enrollment status) were more likely to be sexually assaulted at 4.3 per 1,000 (0.4%) and than other women at 1.4 per 1,000 (0.1%). The study also found that the rate of sexual assault has been falling steadily since 1995, from a peak of 0.9% in 1997 to the current 0.4%. Rape, a subset of all sexual assault, had an incidence of 3.1 per 1,000 female students (0.3%) in 2013[22]

In an effort to prevent rape on campuses, the Obama administration has instituted policies requiring schools to investigate rape cases and adjudicate rape cases under a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.[23] These policies have been sharply criticized by civil libertarians concerned that they are eroding due process and will lead to wrongful convictions of the innocent.[24][25][26][27][28][29] A number of lawsuits have been filed against colleges and universities by students claiming to have been wrongfully expelled for rape they did not commit.[30][31][32]

Criminal punishment[edit]

In the United States, the principle of dual sovereignty applies to rape, as to other crimes. If the rape is committed within the borders of a state, that state has jurisdiction. If the victim is a federal official, an ambassador, consul, or other foreign official under the protection of the United States, or if the crime took place on federal property or involved crossing state borders, or in a manner that substantially affects interstate commerce or national security, then the federal government also has jurisdiction.

If a crime is not committed within any state, such as in the District of Columbia or on a naval or U.S.-flagged merchant vessel in international waters, then federal jurisdiction is exclusive. In cases where the rape involves both state and federal jurisdictions, the offender can be tried and punished separately for each crime without raising issues of double jeopardy.

Because the United States comprises 51 jurisdictions, each with its own criminal code, this section treats only the crime of rape in the federal courts and does not deal with state-by-state specifics. Federal law does not use the term "rape". Rape is grouped with all forms of non-consensual sexual acts under chapter 109a of the United States Code (18 U.S.C. §§ 22412248).

Under federal law, the punishment for rape can range from a fine to life imprisonment. The severity of the punishment is based on the use of violence, the age of the victim, and whether drugs or intoxicants were used to override consent. If the perpetrator is a repeat offender the law prescribes automatically doubling the maximum sentence.

Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. ___ (2008) was a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that held that the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause did not permit a state to punish the crime of rape of a child with the death penalty if the victim does not die and death was not intended, therefore if a person is convicted of rape he or she is not eligible for the death penalty according to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana 554 U.S. ___ (2008).

Different categorizations and maximum punishments for rape under federal law[33][34] a list of rape laws by state[35]

Description Fine Imprisonment (years) Life imprisonment
Rape using violence or the threat of violence to override consent unlimited 0 – unlimited yes
Rape by causing fear in the victim for themselves or for another person to override consent unlimited 0 – unlimited yes
Rape by giving a drug or intoxicant to a person that renders them unable to give consent unlimited 0–15 no
Statutory rape involving an adult perpetrator unlimited 0–15 no
Statutory rape involving an adult perpetrator with a previous conviction unlimited 0 – unlimited yes
Statutory rape involving a perpetrator who is a minor unlimited 0–15 no
When a person causes the rape by a third person unlimited 0–10 no
When a person causes the rape of a child under 12 by a third person unlimited 0 – unlimited yes

Jurisdiction issues also complicate the handling of campus rape; the situation in the U.S. is peculiar in that rape victims are not expected to report directly to the police.[36][37]


Further information: Rape investigation

Medical personnel in the United States of America collect evidence for potential rape cases by using rape kits. In some parts of the United States of America, the rape kits are not always sent off for testing.

The reasons rape kits aren't often used are:[1]

  1. Rape kits cost up to $1,500 a kit.
  2. A decision not to prosecute
  3. Victims who recant or are unwilling to move forward with a case

Treatment of rape victims[edit]

Insurance companies have denied coverage for rape victims, claiming a variety of bases for their actions.

In one case, after a victim mentioned she had previously been raped 17 years before, an insurance company refused to pay for her rape exam and also refused to pay for therapy or medication for trauma, because she "had been raped before" – indicating a preexisting condition.[38]

Some insurance companies have allegedly denied sexual-assault victims mental-health treatment,[38] stating that the service is not medically necessary.[38]

VAWA 2005 requires states to ensure that a victim receives access to a forensic examination free of charge regardless of whether the victim chooses to report a sexual assault (for any reason) to law enforcement or cooperate with the criminal-justice system. All states must comply with the VAWA 2005 requirement regarding forensic examination in order to receive STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program (STOP Program) funds. Under 42 U.S.C. § 3796gg-4, a State is not entitled to funds under the STOP Program unless the State or another governmental entity "incurs the full out-of- pocket cost of forensic medical exams ... for victims of sexual assault."[39]

This means that, if no other governmental entity or insurance carrier pays for the exam, states are required to pay for forensic exams if they wish to receive STOP Program funds. The goal of this provision is to ensure that the victim is not required to pay for the exam. The effect of the VAWA 2005 forensic examination requirement is to allow victims time to decide whether to pursue their case. A sexual assault is a traumatic event. Some victims are unable to decide whether they want to cooperate with law enforcement in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault. Because forensic evidence can be lost as time progresses, such victims should be encouraged to have the evidence collected as soon as possible without deciding to initiate a report. This provision ensures victims receive timely medical treatment.[39]

Due to bureaucratic mismanagement in some areas, and various loopholes, the victim is sometimes sent a bill anyway, and has difficulty in getting it fixed.[40][41]

Historical context[edit]

Rape, in many US states, before the 1970s, could incur the capital punishment. The 1977 Supreme Court case of Coker v. Georgia held that the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbade the death penalty for the crime of rape of an adult woman. The court held that "Life is over for the victim of the murderer; for the rape victim, life may not be nearly so happy as it was, but it is not over, and normally is not beyond repair".[42]

Feminism politicized and publicized rape as an institution in the late 20th-century.

"New York Radical Feminists held a Rape Speak Out, where women discussed rape as an expression of male violence against women, and organized women to establish rape crisis centers and work towards reforming existing rape laws. This was the first attempt to focus political attention on the issue of rape."[43]

Feminist writings on rape include Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, by Susan Brownmiller. Concepts such as date rape and marital rape were brought to public attention.

The murder of Megan Kanka, which occurred in 1994 in New Jersey, when the seven-year-old girl was raped and murdered by her neighbor, has led to the introduction of Megan's Law, which are laws which require law enforcement to disclose details relating to the location of registered sex offenders.

Several developments in regard to rape legislation have occurred in the 21st century. Following the intensely publicized case of the murder of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-years-old girl from Florida who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a man with prior convictions for sexual attacks, states have started enacting laws referred to as Jessica's Law, which typically mandate life imprisonment with a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, and lifetime electronic monitoring, for adults convicted of raping children under 12 years.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Exclusive: Rape in America: Justice Denied". CBS News. 9 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 Statistical Tables: Demography of victims". Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 Statistical Tables: Victims and offenders". Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 2011. 
  4. ^ Tjaden, Patricia; Thoennes, Nancy (January 2006). "Extent, nature and consequences of rape victimization". Washington, DC: US Department of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.  "Among female rape victims, 78.2 percent were raped by one person, 13.5 percent were raped by two people, and 8.3 percent were raped by three or more people (see exhibit 6). Among male victims, the comparable figures are 83.3 percent, 12.1 percent, and 4.6 percent, respectively."
  5. ^ FBI - FAQs about the Change in the UCR Definition of Rape
  6. ^ United States Code: Title 10,920. Art. 120. Rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct | LII / Legal Information Institute. Law.cornell.edu (2011-05-18). Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  7. ^ United States Department of Justice document, (table 26)[dead link]
  8. ^ Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  9. ^ a b Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated, and Forcible Rape: A National Study. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  10. ^ "Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010".  JournalistsResource.org, retrieved March 24, 2012
  11. ^ Berzofsky, Marcus; Krebs, Christopher; Langton, Lynn; Planty, Michael; Smiley-McDonald, Hope (March 7, 2013). "Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010". Bureau of Justice Statistics. 
  12. ^ http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/SOO.PDF page 10
  13. ^ Myriam S. Denov, Perspectives on Female Sex Offending: A Culture of Denial (Ashgate Publishing 2004) – ISBN 9780754635659 .
  14. ^ https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/223691.pdf
  15. ^ http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf
  16. ^ http://www.nationallgbtcancernetwork.com/media/pdf/1_in_4_trans_turned_away.pdf
  17. ^ D'Amato, Anthony (23 June 2006). "Porn Up, Rape Down". Social Sciences Research Network. 
  18. ^ Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, Michael G. Turner. Sexual Victimization of College Women
  19. ^ Dick Haws, "The Elusive Numbers on False Rape," Columbian Journalism Review (November/December 1997).[1]
  20. ^ Alberto R. Gonzales et al. Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. January 2006
  21. ^ Bureau of Justice Statistics Home page. Ojp.usdoj.gov. Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  22. ^ a b c Langton, Lynn; Sinozich, Sofi (14 December 2014). "Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013". Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  23. ^ "Dear Colleague Letter". United States Department of Education. April 4, 2011. 
  24. ^ Grasgreen, Allie (February 12, 2014). "Classrooms, Courts or Neither?". Inside Higher Ed. 
  25. ^ Taranto, James (December 6, 2013). "An Education in College Justice". The Wall Street Journal. 
  26. ^ Hingston, Sandy (August 22, 2011). "The New Rules of College Sex". Philadelphia. 
  27. ^ Grossman, Judith (April 16, 2013). "A Mother, a Feminist, Aghast". The Wall Street Journal. 
  28. ^ Berkowitz, Peter (February 28, 2014). "On College Campuses, a Presumption of Guilt". Real Clear Politics. 
  29. ^ Young, Cathy (May 6, 2014). "Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Skewed White House Crusade on Sexual Assault". Time. 
  30. ^ Van Zuylen-Wood, Simon (February 11, 2014). "Expelled Swarthmore Student Sues College Over Sexual Assault Allegations". Philadelphia. 
  31. ^ Lauerman, John (December 16, 2013). "College Men Accused of Sexual Assault Say Their Rights Violated". Bloomberg. 
  32. ^ Parra, Esteban (December 17, 2013). "DSU student who was cleared of rape charges sues school". The News Journal. 
  33. ^ United States Code. Caselaw.lp.findlaw.com. Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  34. ^ Harvard University U.S. Rape Law. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  35. ^ Rape Laws by State[dead link]
  36. ^ [2]
  37. ^ [3]
  38. ^ a b c Ivory, Danielle (October 21, 2009). "Rape Victim's Choice: Risk AIDS or Health Insurance?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 December 2009. Other patients and therapists wrote in with allegations that insurers are routinely denying long-term mental health care to women who have been sexually assaulted. 
  39. ^ a b Fact Sheets. US Department of Justice
  40. ^ Protess, Ben. (2009-07-30) Despite Promises, Some Rape Victims Stuck Paying Exam Bills The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  41. ^ Rape Victim Billed For Evidence Costs – Houston News Story – KPRC Houston. Click2houston.com (2009-05-07). Retrieved on 2011-10-01.
  42. ^ http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/433/584/case.html
  43. ^ Klein, Ethel (1984). Gender Politics: from consciousness to mass politics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-674-34197-X. 

Further reading[edit]

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