Sexual intercourse or sexual penetration without consent is rape. Rape, or sexual assault, is a violent crime perpetuated by persons who believe they have dominant, controlling power over another. Rape can also take place in instances of domestic abuse, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is unable to consent, such as against a person who is unconscious or against a person who is below the legal age of consent.
The American Medical Association reports that rape—sexual assault—is the most underreported violent crimes in the United States. In fact, 97% of rapists will never be incarcerated; the chance of a woman being raped in the United States is 1 in 5. The United States is #13 on a list that ranks and records incidences of rape. Most women and children know their rapist. Undocumented women faced increased likelihood of rape, and transgender women have disproportionately high experiences of rape and sexualized violence.
Women are not the only victims of rape—men rape men, and women rape men. But 97% of reported rapists are men. Rape happens everywhere. Rape tolerance and rape denial (sometimes understood as “rape culture”) continue this violence that mostly targets women and children. It is a weapon of oppression and often a tactic in war.
Here are some important facts about rape:
- Low estimate of women raped in the United States: 300,000.
- High estimate of women raped in the United States: 1.3 million.
- Percentage of unreported rapes: 54%
- Percentage of women who know their rapist: 83%
- An American is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes
- Sexual violence in college is more prevalent than any other crime
- Woman’s chance of being raped in the U.S.: 1 in 5
- Woman’s chance of being raped in college: 1 in 4
- Native American woman’s chance of being raped: 1 in 3
Feminists have been very clearly committed to breaking silences around rape, especially talking about rape as a common experience for women and girls. The definition of rape has changed, opening pathways to prosecution and conviction.
Since much of history describes women as the property of men, rape has often been understood as a crime against a husband or father. In the U.S. the marital rape exemption law survived into the 1990s. This historical and cultural legacy remains the precedent, so that the understanding rape as a crime against women is a major shift in thought and action.
President Barak Obama signed the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights in 2016, the first federal law of its kind. It protects survivors’ access to the initial forensic examination and institutes measures to insure evidence of rape is appropriately preserved and tested. Amanda Nguyen, a rape survivor and founder of RISE, says that this Bill of Rights can help encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice.
RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, offers programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims of sexual violence, and to help insure perpetrators are bought to justice.
Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, Yes Mean Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power in A World Without Rape (2008)
Robin Warshaw, I Never Called it Rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape (1994)