Prevalence

While the myth that sexual violence is most often perpetrated by a stranger persists, the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) found that 62% of women who were sexually victimized reported that the offender was a past or present partner.1 Various factors, such as study methodology, definition used, and underreporting, have influenced abilities to develop an agreed-upon overall prevalence rate of rape and other forms of sexual violence;14 however, findings from community and college studies suggest a stable estimated prevalence rate of rape at 15% for U.S. women since the 1980s. Findings specifically on married women suggest that 10% to 14% of married women are raped by their husbands in the United States.15

In a review on marital rape, Martin et al.11 summarize the different types of marital sexual violence and related prevalence rates. Their findings conclude that this type of intimate partner violence can take one of two forms based on tactics used by the offender: (1) nonphysical sexual coercion, which is most frequent and involves coercive tactics that stem from social (e.g., traditional beliefs about spousal sexual responsibilities) and interpersonal (e.g., use of resources or power to coerce desired sexual behaviors from a spouse) factors and (2) threatened or forced sex categories that can be further grouped based on extent of co-occurring forms of violence and motives of the offender.16 Studies involving clinical and national samples have found a range of nonphysical sexual coercion from 36% to 61%.8,17 Threatened or forced sex has been reported at much lower rates among available samples, with ranges from 4% to 48% among married women.17,18 Discrimination does not exist in terms of who may be exposed to sexual violence; however, available data clearly indicates that women are disproportionately affected by rape and other forms of sexual violence.1 Women have been the focus of the majority of research in this area and often from a heterosexual relationship perspective, with less attention given to men and gay or lesbian individuals who may be victims of intimate partnerperpetrated sexual violence. For men, NVAWS findings indicate that 2.9% of men were raped; however, unlike women, sexual violations were most often by a nonintimate male, with intimate partner-perpetrated violence 18% of the time among raped men.1 Sexual violence has also been found in the limited number of studies on gay and lesbian intimate relationships and as summarized by Christopher and Pflieger (2007), findings indicate that more than 50% of lesbians and 4.7% of gay men have survived sexual violence. However, in the NVAWS, sixty-seven out of eight thousand gay male respondents reported rape by a male, and there were no reports of adult rape of lesbian women by another woman.1

These findings highlight the alarmingly high rates of sexual violence, particularly among women. As indicated, however, these existing data have limitations in how fully they capture the extent of sexual violence. The availability of nationally representative data remains limited to a few studies that vary in terms of methods and definition of sexual violence. As well, research has placed even less focus on subgroups such as gay and lesbian intimate relationships. This concern with prevalence data is also compounded by the fact that many survivors never disclose their experience.8

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