This is a past program. Information is provided for archival purposes only.

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About Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is an act of forcing another person into sexual activity against his or her will. Sexual assault takes many forms, including rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact. The crime includes forced sexual intercourse (rape), sodomy (oral or anal sexual acts), child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

Sexual assault can happen to anyone of any age, gender, race, and socioeconomic background. It can happen at any time or place. Assailants may be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members. Perpetrators may use violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, or other forms of pressure or deception to commit sexual assault.

A forcible rape occurs every 6.2 minutes within the United States.1 In 2010, the National Crime Victimization Survey reported 188,380 rapes or sexual assaults of victims age 12 and older.2 Of these crimes, only 49.6 percent were reported to law enforcement.3

Other studies on sexual assault have found:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped at some time in their lives.4
  • More than half of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.5
  • Most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25, and 42.2% before the age of 18.6
  • More than 1 in 4 male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.7

Rates of victimization by sexual violence vary among ethnic groups. Approximately 1 in 5 Black women (22 percent) and White (18.8 percent) non-Hispanic women, and 1 in 7 Hispanic women (14.6 percent) in the United States have experienced rape at some point in their lives. More than 1 in 4 (26.9 percent) of women who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native and 1 in 3 33.5 percent) of women who identified as multiracial non-Hispanic women reported rape in their lifetimes.8

Far too few sexual assault cases are resolved by the criminal justice system. In 2010, of every 100 forcible rapes, only 50 were reported. Of reported crimes, only about one-quarter led to an arrest.9 The vast majority of sexual assault victims, then, do not see their offenders brought to justice.


  2. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Criminal Victimization, 2010,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2011), Table 1,
  3. Ibid, 6.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Executive Summary,” (Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2011), 1.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid, 2
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid, 2-3.
  9. Ibid.

This project is supported by Grant No. 2011-TA-AX-K048 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.