Nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has been sexually assaulted

**Trigger warning**

Nearly one in five women in the U.S. has been sexually assaulted. That’s the most headline-grabbing statistic from an important new study released by the CDC yesterday. Based on a nationally representative phone survey, the report offers a comprehensive and depressing look at the epidemic of sexual and domestic violence in this country. Here are some other major takeaways:

Most people are raped* by people they know.

This should be old news by now, but it bears repeating: The myth of the stranger-in-the-alley rape is way off. More than half of female survivors reported being raped by a current or former partner and 40% reported being raped by an acquaintance. Only about 1 in 7 were raped by a stranger.

Men are affected by sexual violence too.

As Hugo Schwyzer said, “Though men remain the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of rape, the new research makes it more evident than ever that men are also its victims.” One in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped and nearly 5% have been made to penetrate someone else in their lifetimes. (By the way, this is the first national study to distinguish between being forced to penetrate someone and being penetrated.)

Young people are particularly impacted by sexual violence.

About 80% of female survivors were raped before they turned 25, with 42.2% before the age of 18. Male survivors are often even younger: More than one-quarter experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger. Holy shit.

Rape is incredibly under-reported (surprise!).

According to this survey, 1.3 million American women experienced a rape or attempted rape last year. That’s actually a significantly higher annual figure than previous studies found; RAINN’s estimate was 272,350 for 2010. But regardless, with only 84,767 rapes reported last year, it’s clear that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes sexual assault. Gee, I wonder why more survivors aren’t coming forward? Oh, right.

Intimate partner violence is the worst–and really common.

The researchers tried to capture the real-life effect of intimate partner violence by asking questions not just about the violence itself but also about the ways it impacted the respondent. Nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men reported experiencing rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner and reported at least one impact–for example, being fearful, having PTSD symptoms, being injured, missing work or school, etc.

This shit is bad for our health.

Men and women who have experienced rape, stalking, or intimate partner violence were more likely to report having chronic health problems, such as frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping. Among women, there was also a higher risk of asthma, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome for survivors.

You can check out the whole report here. This is the first in what will be an annual survey–and while much of this isn’t exactly new info, I think it does a good job of teasing apart the various forms of sexual violence far too many Americans experience. It could serve as a useful tool if we ever decide we’d like to get serious about ending this public health crisis.

* Note: In this study, “rape” was defined as “completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.”

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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