Rape Victims: Facts, Aftermath & Psychological Effects

Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Rape is a horrible crime against a human being. Rape affects both the victims of the crime and their families and friends. Here, we discuss statistics, the definition of rape, and the aftermath.


Sexual assault statistics are chilling. Rape is not just a woman's problem. Before the age of 18, 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually assaulted. Members of any gender, at any age group, to a member of any racial or ethnic group may be victims of rape. This lesson will look at the facts of sexual assault statistics, what they mean, and how survivors deal with the aftermath of their ordeal. In this lesson, we will use the term sexual assault and rape interchangeably. The term rape has different definitions depending on state and national laws, often these laws depend on the type of violation and sometimes the relationship between the victim and assailant. The term sexual assault has a broader meaning as any act of sexual violence.

Facts and Statistics

While it can be difficult to determine the exact laws by which sexual assault may be defined, we can look at the term and get an idea of what it means. The first factor in sexual assault is one of consent. The idea behind consent is simply that one person is allowing another person to engage in sexual contact with them. If consent does not exist, then any sexual contact may be considered sexual assault. If the person cannot consent because of age, mental status, or intoxication, any sexual contact is sexual assault.

The word 'assault' does not always imply excessive violence or threats, just that the sex is not consensual. Since non-consensual sexual contact is such a gross violation of another person's autonomy, it is considered assault on its own. The attacker does not have to use any additional violence for the act to be considered an assault. Finally, the reason behind rape is not often sexual satisfaction for the assailant, but rather a way of expressing power over the victim. Rapes are often planned in advance, rather than a spur of the moment sexual impulse.

Many stereotypes exist of masked men waiting in alleys to carry away women and rape them. These stereotypes are wrong and describe only a fraction of rapes that occur. Though the stereotype is that strangers are potential victimizers, 8 out of 10 victims of sexual assault knew their assailants. They may be friends, neighbors, coworkers, or family members. Around 91% of rape victims are female, and 9% are male. Approximately 99% of the perpetrators of single victim rapes are male.

It was once very common in courts to assess how the victim was dressed, how they were acting, and whether any of these factors led to the assault. It is common sense wisdom that women who travel into bad neighborhoods or stay out late at night are at risk for rape. However, over half (nearly 6 out of 10) of sexual assaults occur in the victim's own home, or the home of a friend, relative, or neighbor. Only around 16% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. This may be because of social and cultural factors or because the victims were afraid of what would happen to them if they reported the crime.

Rape Survivors

We'll be using the term survivor to describe people that have been sexually assaulted. The word victim is reserved in this lesson for discussing statistics and potential targets of rape. Here, the word 'survivor' is used because of the life-altering and potentially lethal context of sexual assault. Further, using the word survivor grants more agency (the ability to take control of their own lives) than using the word victim. Surviving sexual assault depends on the amount of physical force used by the attacker. In some cases, cooperation on the part of the victim can put the attacker at ease and prevent bodily harm. Other times, one must fight back and make so much noise that the attacker flees for fear of being caught. This lesson is not intended to be a guide to surviving rape with a minimum of injury, as the details of the assault are often intertwined with the proper response.

After the assault, a visit to an emergency room is often necessary, both for injuries from the assault and the administration of a rape kit. A rape kit is a series of clinical procedures that collect evidence from the survivor's body, like anal or vaginal swabs, to preserve the attacker's DNA. One does not always have to report the crime to the police before collecting a rape kit. If one wants to prosecute later, any evidence will be properly preserved in a lab. In the time after the rape, sexual assault survivors often manifest a variety of psychological and even physical illnesses. In terms of psychological effects, survivors often manifest post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety disorders. Physically, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and substance abuse are common among survivors.

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