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Criminal Justice, Gender

Female victims of sexual violence, 1994-2010

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In March 2013, President Obama signed into law the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, adding new protections for LGBT persons experiencing intimate partner violence and Native American women, as well as new requirements for colleges and universities handling sexual assault incidents.

Although overall rates of sexual assault in the United States have declined significantly over the past two decades, research has shown that the chances of rape remain especially high for young women, and women between ages 16 and 24 are four times more likely to be raped as compared with the rate for all women. As the Center for Public Integrity revealed in an in-depth reporting series titled “Sexual Assault on Campus,” many cases of sexual violence are ignored or buried even when brought to the attention of college officials (NPR also teamed up for a series of powerful reports on the issue.) Alcohol or drugs are often a factor. But a more wired and networked world may be changing some of these traditional dynamics of silence, as the New York Times reports. For campus and higher education reporters interested in the new mandates for universities under the new Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act — part of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act — see this summary by the Clery Center and the original legislative text.

There continues to be a significant volume of new scholarly research on issues of sexual assault on campus, on topics ranging from fraternity culture to use of campus services after an incident.

A March 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010,” provides a broad picture of such crimes across American society, examining the demographics of both victims and offenders. It details characteristics of the crime such as location, weapon use, victim-offender relationship, and the involvement of medical, law enforcement and social service organizations. The researchers used data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which collects information on nonfatal crimes against persons age 12 or older from a national sample of U.S. households. The term “sexual violence” includes threats, attempts and incidences of rape and assault. Statistics are summarized here in three five-year ranges: 1994-1998, 1999-2004 and 2005-2010.

Key study findings include:

  • 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.
  • The percentage of rape or sexual assault victimizations reported to police increased to an estimated high of 56% in 2003 before declining to an estimated 35% in 2010, a level last seen in 1995. A lower percentage of incidents reported to police resulted in arrests in 2005-10 (31%) than in 1994-98 (47%), according to estimates.
  • In 2005-10, females who were age 34 or younger, who lived in lower income households, and who lived in rural areas experienced some of the highest rates of sexual violence. In 2005-10, 78% of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend or acquaintance.
  • The typical assailant is a white male who had been drinking or using drugs before the assault. However, the percentage of black offenders increased from 18% in 1994-98 to 27% in 2005-10.
  • “Over all three periods, between 41% and 48% of victims of sexual violence were undertaking activities at or around their homes at the time of the incident. In 2005-10, 12% of rape or sexual assault victimizations against females occurred while the victim was working, and 7% occurred while the victim was attending school. Another 29% of sexual violence occurred while the victim went to or from work or school, was out shopping, or was engaged in leisure activities away from the home.”
  • In 2005-10, the offender was armed with a gun, knife, or other weapon in 11% of rape or sexual assault victimizations.
  • In 2005-10, about 80% of female rape or sexual assault victims treated for injuries received care in a hospital, doctor’s office, or emergency room, compared to 65% in 1994-98. In 2005-10, about 1 in 4 (23%) rape or sexual assault victims received help or advice from a victim service agency.

The researchers note that while sexual assault is not limited to females, incidences of male rape over time have remained relatively low — accounting for approximately 9% of all rape or sexual assault victimizations between 1995 and 2010. In 2010, the male rate of rape or sexual assault was 0.1 per 1,000 males compared to a rate of 2.1 per 1,000 females.

Related research: A 2012 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, “National Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Sexually Revictimized Adolescent, College, and Adult Household-residing Women,” examined the cases of nearly 6,000 girls and women who experienced a second sexual assault incident and found high rates of PTSD among survivors: “About 53% of victimized adolescents, 50% of victimized college women, and 58.8% of victimized household-residing women reported sexual revictimization. Current PTSD was reported by 20% of revictimized adolescents, 40% of revictimized college women, and 27.2% of revictimized household-residing women.” Overall, the data suggest that, nationwide, “769,000 adolescent girls, 625,000 college women, and 13.4 million women in U.S. households report sexual revictimization. Further, 154,000 sexually revictimized adolescents, 250,000 sexually revictimized college women, and 3.6 million sexually revictimized household women met criteria for past 6-month PTSD.”

For a sense of the global picture relating to sexual violence, see this World Health Organization report.

Tags: sex crimes, crime, women and work, policing

    Writer: | Last updated: March 20, 2013

    Citation: Berzofsky, Marcus; Krebs, Christopher; Langton, Lynn; Planty, Michael; Smiley-McDonald, Hope. "Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010." U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 2013, NCJ 240655.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the issue-related NPR investigation titled "Seeking Justice for Campus Rapes."

    1. What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?

    Read the full study titled "Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010."

    1. What are the study's key technical terms? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?