Sexual violence is sexual activity when consent is not obtained or freely given. It is a serious public health problem in the United States that profoundly impacts lifelong health, opportunity, and well-being. Sexual violence impacts every community and affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages. Anyone can experience or perpetrate sexual violence. The perpetrator of sexual violence is usually someone the victim knows, such as a friend, current or former intimate partner, coworker, neighbor, or family member. Sexual violence can occur in person, online, or through technology, such as posting or sharing sexual pictures of someone without their consent, or non-consensual sexting.
How Big is the Problem?
Sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States. Researchers know the numbers underestimate this problem because many cases are unreported. Victims may be ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid to tell the police, friends, or family about the violence. Victims may also keep quiet because they have been threatened with further harm if they tell anyone or do not think anyone will help them.
The data shows:
Sexual violence is common. More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape, and 1 in 14 men was made to penetrate someone (completed or attempted) during his lifetime.
Sexual violence starts early. One in 3 female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old and 1 in 8 reported that it occurred before age 10. Nearly 1 in 4 male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old and about 1 in 4 reported that it occurred before age 10.
Sexual violence is costly. Recent estimates put the lifetime cost of rape at $122,461 per victim, including medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities, and other costs.
What Are the Consequences?
Sexual violence consequences are physical, like bruising and genital injuries, and psychological, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The consequences may be chronic. Victims may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and experience re-occurring reproductive, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and sexual health problems.
Sexual violence is also linked to negative health behaviors. Sexual violence victims are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, use drugs, and engage in risky sexual activity.
The trauma from sexual violence may impact a survivor’s employment in terms of time off from work, diminished performance, job loss, or being unable to work. These issues disrupt earning power and have a long-term effect on the economic well-being of survivors and their families. Coping and completing everyday tasks after victimization can be challenging. Victims may have difficulty maintaining personal relationships, returning to work or school, and regaining a sense of normalcy.
Additionally, sexual violence is connected to other forms of violence. For example, girls who have been sexually abused are more likely to experience additional sexual violence and violence types and become victims of intimate partner violence in adulthood. Bullying perpetration in early middle school is linked to sexual harassment perpetration in high school.
How do we prevent it?
Certain factors may increase or decrease the risk for perpetrating and/or experiencing sexual violence. To prevent sexual violence, we must understand and address the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence.
The CDC developed, has developed STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence to help communities use best available evidence to prevent sexual violence. This resource focuses on individual behaviors and relationship, family, school, community, and societal factors that influence risk and protective factors for violence.
Different violence types are connected and often share root causes. Sexual violence is linked to other violence types through shared risk and protective factors. Addressing and preventing one violence type may have an impact on preventing other violence types.
Source: Centers for Disease Control