By David Lee on January 6, 2012 · tagged as , ,

Rape more common than smoking in the US

Sexual violence is a pervasive public health problem in the United States. In December 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.  Throughout the country, headlines of local and national papers described that rape is more common than previously thought.

Today an article published in on Significance Magazine’s web site, a publication of  the American Statistical Association and Royal Statistical Society, compared these rates to those of smoking – 18.3% of women over 18 reported being sexual assaulted in their lifetime while 17.4% of women reported smoking. Let consider this as we set health priorities.

Just as in smoking prevention, preventing sexual violence before it happens in the first place is crucial. NISVS demonstrated that sexual violence often first happen when peopel are young, thus early prevention efforts are vital.

For more information on NISVS go to CDC’s NISVS page. You can also find materials on PreventConnectVawNet’s NISVS Resource Page and the NSVRC’s NISVS Page.

Photo from Raul Lieberwirth.

David Lee

More Posts by David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project PreventConnect, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 27 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly January 11, 2012 at 8:54 am

This is such an important message, but BE CLEAR! Your headline says rape is more common than smoking, but in the sentence in the second paragraph when you lay it out it says sexual assault. Those are not necessarily the same thing. This lack of clarity can really hurt efforts to raise awareness about rape because people see that and think advocates are exaggerating the truth.

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Kila March 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

This information came from Oregon SATF (Sexual Assault Task Force) and EVAW (End Violence Against Women International) This is a change in definition of Rape, by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. This change was approved in December 2011.

“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

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Edie Montgomery July 17, 2013 at 5:49 am

Thank you for the clarification Kila.

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aeiou January 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

So, Molly, what kinds of sexual assault aren’t rape

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m August 15, 2012 at 11:56 am

Rape can be defined as penetration – penis to vagina or anus. Sexual assault, aside from rape, can be defined as groping, digital penetration to anus or vagina, or any type of unwanted sexual contact up to and including intercourse. “Sexual Assault” is a very broad and inclusive term

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Anon January 12, 2012 at 8:39 am

There are plenty of types of sexual assault that would not be the same thing as rape. That’s kind of a silly question. Say a man grabs a woman’s chest and attempts to subdue her, but she escapes. She hasn’t been raped, but has been sexually assaulted. Etc…

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That Cat. January 12, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Your example is rape. For more information see:

http://bit.ly/x9CODr

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Mari January 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Is “Violence Against Women More Common Than Smoking?” really a better headline? Stop trying to derail or disprove this by quibbling over semantics. The fact remains that this violence affects a substantial portion of the population while remaining largely unaddressed by society as a whole. According to these numbers, for every five women you know almost 2 have been a victim of sexual assault. Would you nitpick the definition of sexual assault vs. rape when these two victims are women close to you?

In the 1960s it was estimated that anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the population smoked. Now, forty years later, legislation and campaigning has whittled that percentage down by over half. If violence against women could get that level of mainstream exposure, how many victims could we save?

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Autumn July 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Here, here

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Andrea Bredbeck January 17, 2012 at 11:39 am

Yes. Rape is a global pandemic. Please help us grow awareness.

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Debbie January 18, 2012 at 5:32 am

Intercourse, while a very brutal act, is not the only way a persons body is violated thus considered rape. Any unwanted touching, grabbing, mauling ones body is raping them of their dignity and ownership of themselves.

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College Girl January 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm

As a college student who works to prevent all types of sexual assault (including rape) on our campus I have to agree that the distinction between assault and rape is incredibly important. An ass-slap is considered assault and while it may not be fun to be objectified in that way any woman would choose an ass-slap, or gross neck-kiss to forced intercourse. If we don’t relay facts accurately our cause loses its validity.
STOP ASSAULT
STOP RAPE
but don’t confuse the two.

also, this article compares assault to smoking. smoking is easy to prevent by informing individuals not to participate. you cannot very well inform an unwilling victim not to participate in being assaulted. A man intent on rape, isn’t going to be deterred by a public service announcement.

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Hebe February 12, 2012 at 10:20 pm

totally agree with College Girl

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Tina S March 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Sexual assault, often referred to as rape, is legally defined differently in each state. In New Jersey where I live, the law defines sexual assault as “the penetration, no matter how slight, in which physical force or coercion is used or in which the victim is physically or mentally incapacitated”. Penetration is defined as “vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse between persons or the insertion of a hand, finger or other object into the anus or vagina by either the actor or upon the actor’s instruction” (NJSA 2C:14-1).

The law in New Jersey, which is gender neutral, does not specify male or female, but uses the words “actor” and “victim” to describe the persons involved.

Acts such as voyeurism, lewdness, criminal sexual contact (in otherwords groping or inapporpraite touching without penetration) and sexual harrasment which does not include penetration is refered to as sexual victimization. However, other states would call these acts sexual assault.

Therefore, I dont think the article is wrong, but may just depend on where the author lives. Either way, any sexual act, whether there is penetration or not is still a sexual crime and is serious and detrimental either way to survivors. There is a continuum of sexual violence not level meaning one doesnt make the emotional and psychological impact more serious. If it wasnt consensual then it wasnt consensual.

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Becka May 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Um, the smoker is the actor. The assaulter is the actor. The better study would have been to compare male smokers to male rapists/assaulters/whatevers. Thus the onus for change would be placed where it belongs —- on those who countenance rape culture.

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Laural Gamp September 26, 2012 at 10:44 am

Hooray for pointing this out Becka!
Thanks!

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R. May 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Totally agree on your point of responsibility. However, I think the point being made in this case has less to do with the actor and more to do with pointing out the negative effects that rape/SA have on health. These stats are important to show what we need to target in terms of improving women’s health (more money to violence prevention, for example, because it has a huge impact on women – affects more women than smoking does). The prioritized response to this fact should definitely place the onus on the perpetrator.

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Lizzy Liddell May 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I wonder what the statistics would read if those polled were asked, “How many individual persons have you been sexually assaulted by?”… and those stats included!

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