Health & wellness

Report finds women carry burden of sexual, domestic violence

In May, Ray and Janay Rice spoke to the media.

AP/File

In May, Ray and Janay Rice spoke to the media.

This week, the video that depicted former NFL player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee, Janay, in an elevator brought attention to an abuse that’s all too common in American society: An estimated 1 in 6 women who have been victimized by domestic violence experienced being hit with a fist, and 29.7 percent said they’d been slapped, pushed, or shoved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week called sexual and intimate partner violence a substantial “public health burden.” The statistics are part of the organization’s 2011 survey of the problem.

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Both men and women are victims of sexual and domestic violence, the survey found, but its burden is not evenly distributed. Women are both more likely to be victims of these types of violence and be negatively impacted by it.

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One in every 5 women has been raped.

And 1 in every 4 women has been severely physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

“If this was the prevalence of any other public health issue, the response would be immediate and the resources would be provided,” said Toni Troop, the director of communications of Jane Doe Inc., a Massachusetts-based coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence.

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Now in its second year, the CDC survey seeks to monitor violence across victims’ sex, race/ethnicity, and ages. Eventually, the survey’s data will be used to evaluate the successes of intervention and prevention measures.

About 14,000 men and women across 50 states and the District of Columbia were interviewed over the telephone as part of the survey, which gave participants an anonymous outlet to share details of their experiences with sexual and domestic violence.

According to the survey, an estimated 19.3 percent of American women, or about 23.3 million, have been raped at some point during their lifetimes, with about 1.6 percent having been sexually assaulted in the last 12 months. Additionally, about 43.9 percent of women experienced other forms of sexual violence, such as sexual coercion, groping, or exposure.

Sexual violence Percentage of women Estimated number of female victims Percentage of men Estimated number of male victims
Rape 19.3 23,305,000 1.7 1,971,000
Completed forced penetration 11.5 13,826,000 0.7 834,000
Attempted forced penetration 6.4 7,732,000
Complete alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration 9.3 11,276,000 1.1 1,308,000
Other sexual violence 43.9 52,958,000 23.4 26,590,000
Made to penetrate 0.6 703,000 6.7 7,610,000
Sexual coercion 12.5 15,045,000 5.8 6,558,000
Unwanted sexual contact 27.3 33,016,000 10.8 12,238,000
Noncontact unwanted sexual experience 32.1 38,813,000 13.3 15,150,000

Of female rape victims, about 78.7 percent were assaulted before their 25th birthday, and an estimated 38.3 percent of female victims experienced the assault between the ages of 18 and 24.

Alcohol and drugs, which are often considered factors in college campus-based sexual assaults, facilitated about 9.3 percent of the rapes of women, according to the survey. Of those who had experienced an alcohol- and drug-induced rapes, more than half were victimized by an acquaintance.

“A lot of (Massachusetts) rape crisis centers are working with college students or high schools,” said Troop. “And a lot of people they see come to them years later about violence they have seen earlier in their lifetimes.”

Female victims were more likely to express fear of the sexual and domestic abuse or note the negative impacts of it. An estimated 23.7 percent of women who experienced abuse were fearful, compared to 6.9 percent of male victims.

“It makes a difference that women report being afraid of the abuse they are experiencing and that male victims did not report the same levels of fear or post-traumatic stress,” said Anne Menard, the CEO of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. “[Men] were not as concerned for their safety, not injured at the same rate, and did not require medical care. That suggests we need to deliver different services.”

About 1.7 percent of men have been raped during their lifetimes, and 23.4 percent have experienced other types of sexual violence. An estimated 27.5 percent of men have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

Like women, men are more likely to experience sexual and domestic violence at an early age. Among men who were made to penetrate a perpetrator, 71 percent first experienced it when they were under 25 years old.

The survey saw higher rates of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner abuse among American Indian/Alaskan Native and multiracial populations. Research has found that American Indian and Alaskan Native women are at greater risk of sexual and domestic violence due to higher levels of poverty, social and geographic isolation, and alcohol use by perpetrators, said Matthew J. Breiding, a behavioral scientist at the CDC.

Other groups with increased susceptibility to these types of violence — including prison inmates and the homeless — were not targeted by the telephone survey.

While the survey’s estimations of the prevalence of sexual and domestic violence are most likely underestimations, Maureen Gallagher, the director of policy at Jane Doe Inc., said the report helps those working with victims better understand the issue.

“Victims are often hesitant the talk to law enforcement about this,” said Gallagher, adding that the anonymous nature of the survey increases its accuracy.

“It gives us a bigger picture but still not the whole picture.”

Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cmcloutier.
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