Nearly one in five U.S. women has been a victim of sexual assault, new federal survey finds


2009 Alexandria's Domestic Violence Intervention Project presents Silent Witness, a candlelight vigil & memorial to the 15 women who have lost their lives due to domestic violence in Alexandria, Va. Red silhouettes were displayed at City Hall bearing the name of each victim whose life was brutally cut short due to violence. Marilyn McMahon, (left) and husband, Bill Berridge, from Alexandria, read the stories of two victims, plaques on the front of the silhouettes, after the ceremony. (Richard A. Lipski )

Nearly one-fifth of U.S. women have been the victim of a sexual assault at some time in their lives, according to new federal data released Wednesday.

In addition, one in four has been the victim of severe physical violence by a boyfriend or husband, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which was conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey also found that one in six has experienced a stalking that made her very fearful or believed that someone close to her would be harmed or killed.

The survey also showed that about one man in seven has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in his life, and one in 19 has experienced a stalking at some point.

Researchers calculated that on average, 24 people are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking every minute. In a year, that translates to more than 12 million women and men. More than 1 million women reported being the victims of a rape or an attempted rape in the 12 months preceding the survey, officials said.

Of women who have been victimized, almost 70 percent experienced some kind of violence from an intimate partner before the age of 25. And about 80 percent of female rape victims were attacked before age 25.

“This report highlights the heavy toll that sexual violence, stalking and intimate-partner violence places on adults in this country,” said Linda Degutis, who heads the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The results come from a national representative telephone survey of 16,507 U.S. adults and mark the first of what will now become an annual survey of domestic violence.

Advocacy groups said the statistics underscore the severity of the problem.

“The prevalence of sexual and intimate-partner violence is staggering,” said Esta Soler of Futures Without Violence, a San Francisco-based group.

Federal officials said there was no way to directly compare the new data with previous estimates. Scott Berkowitz of the Washington-based Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network said the lifetime estimate of one in five female victims is “very close to previous estimates.”

The estimate of 1.3 million rapes per year is “vastly higher” than other studies, Berkowitz said. For example, he noted that the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which is much larger, reported about 200,000 sexual assaults per year.

“So I’d be cautious in interpreting the new data or accepting it as an accurate depiction of the extent of the crime,” Berkowitz said. “That said, CDC, DOJ and other studies all show that this is an incredibly violent crime that impacts nearly every family in America. ”

To listen to a briefing about the findings or read a transcript, click here.

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