Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a new government task force that will specifically focus on issues of rape cases on college campuses. His announcement coincided with the release of a new White House report detailing the extent of the nation’s sexual assault crisis. And thanks to the recent media attention on a sexual assault case at the University of Missouri that wasn’t investigated for years, the issue has remained in the news.
In order to figure out how to tackle the issue of sexual assaults on college campuses, it’s important to consider the context about what we already know about rape in this country. Here are five critical facts in the White House Council on Women and Girls’ new report on sexual assault:
1. 80 percent of female rape victims are raped before they turn 25 years old.
Although sexual assault is a societal issue that impacts women at every stage of life, it’s much more highly concentrated among college aged women. The vast majority of women who are victims of rape are assaulted before they reach their mid-twenties. Nearly half are raped for the first time before they reach the age of 18. Research has also found that undergraduate women are most likely to be raped during the first six weeks of their first year of college — a time period that’s earned the nickname “the red zone.”
2. Nearly two-thirds of rapists on college campuses are serial offenders — with an average of six rapes each.
The report cites one study of college men that found about seven percent admitted to committing at least one sexual assault. Of that group, 63 percent acknowledged they had raped multiple times, with an average of six different offenses. Other research has found similar evidence about serial college rapists. Unfortunately, the inadequate sexual assault policies on college campuses typically allow these individuals to escape punishment and continue raping people.
3. Ninety two percent of female rape victims are assaulted by someone who they know.
Popular assumptions about rape typically imagine a stranger jumping out from behind the bushes to accost a woman walking by. But “stranger rape” isn’t the reality of how Americans are experiencing sexual violence. Just over half of female victims, 51 percent, are raped by a current or former intimate partner. An additional 41 percent are raped by an acquaintance. By contrast, 14 percent of women say their rapist was a total stranger. (The numbers here don’t add up to 100 because they include survivors who have been raped multiple times by people of varying levels of relationship to them.)
4. Just 12 percent of college sexual assault victims ever report the crime to law enforcement.
In general, sexual assault is a crime that goes under-reported. That’s especially true on college campuses, where just 12 percent of victims ever report their rape to police. There are a couple factors that could be driving such low reporting rates. One survey of college survivors found that the common reasons cited for not going to the authorities are the fear that students will be punished under the school’s drug and alcohol policy; discomfort with reporting someone who is a classmate or an acquaintance; and a lack of awareness that the violation of sexual consent “counts” as rape.
5. Almost 1.6 million men are raped at some point in their lives.
It’s important to be inclusive in efforts to address sexual violence. Boys and men are absolutely also at risk for sexual assault, and an estimated one in 71 men — which works out to be almost 1.6 million individuals — are raped at some point in their lives. Most male victims, 93 percent, report that they were assaulted by another man. However, men’s experiences with sexual assault are less likely to occur on college campuses, since they’re more likely to be assaulted when they’re very young. More than a quarter of male victims are raped before they turn 10 years old.