A comprehensive government survey on rape, stalking, and domestic violence reported that nearly one in five women surveyed in the study had been raped or experienced an attempted rape at some point in their lives, while one in three women have experienced either rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
The study, titled The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and released in December 2011, was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and aimed to assess experiences of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence amongst adults.
Jodi Solito, the Director of the Women’s Center at Slippery Rock University, was happy the statistics on the matter were brought to public attention on such a large scale.
“It’s encouraging to see a huge agency like the CDC do a study like this and for the information to get out in a public form,” Solito said.
As NISVS was the first study of its kind at both the national and state level, it revealed telling statistics that were even worse than the general belief on the occurrence of violent sexual crimes, particularly when dealing with intimate relationships.
“Sexual violence is overwhelmingly committed by someone known to the victim,” Solito said. “Unfortunately, the stereotype perpetuated is a stranger, usually wielding a weapon, jumping out of the darkness.”
According to the study, one in ten women surveyed said they have been raped by an intimate partner, making it the most common relationship between victim and perpetrator in cases of rape dealing with a female victim.
Among all female victims of rape, 51 percent reported being raped by an intimate partner, while 41 percent were victim to an acquaintance.
Violent sexual crimes go beyond rape, however, with instances of physical abuse and stalking plaguing the country as well.
About one in four women have been victim of severe physical abuse by an intimate partner, while nearly half of all women have experienced psychological aggression from a partner.
One in six women in the study claimed to have experienced stalking in which they felt fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed, with two-thirds of those victims saying they were stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
“It is important to differentiate between harassment and stalking,” Solio said. “Stalking behavior takes harassment to the level of fear. The person being stalked becomes fearful as a result of another’s attention.”
Unwanted phone calls or text messages was the most common tactic used by stalkers.
According to the study, all forms of sexual violence and stalking typically begin at a young age – usually younger than 25 – and cause both mental and physical health problems in victims.
Roughly 80 percent of female rape victims surveyed experienced their first assault before the age of 25, while most female victims of physical violence experienced some form of intimate partner violence before that age.
While the study shows a huge problem in sexual violence amongst youths, those statistics aren’t represented in crime data at universities, according to Solito.
“If you look in the police reports on campus, you won’t find that behavior,” Solito said. “Not because it didn’t happen but because students don’t report it.”
And the reason the crimes go unreported is complex, according to Solito.
“They don’t want to get the other person in trouble,” Solito said of instances involving intimate partners, but said a form of denial also results in the issue not being reported on college campuses.
“Even though we tell them, I don’t think college students equate what they experience in their own situations in relationships with violent behavior,” Solito said. “They distance themselves from that behavior.”
Solito also noted sociological views hindering reports.
“There’s great shame attached to the way society reacts to these crimes. It’s the only crime with a reaction of ‘what did you do to put yourself in that situation,’ so there’s a lot of self-blame. So rather than report it and have someone question your judgment, they stay quiet and hope it just goes away,” Solito said.
Stalking is a big problem for college students as well, with more than half of female stalking victims reporting incidents happening before the age of 25.
“There seems to be an increase in stalking on campus, especially over the past three years,” Solito said. “We often think of stalking as a behavior exhibited by ex-partners or those who wish to be romantically involved with the person they are stalking. Of late, this behavior is seen between and among acquaintances, friends, [and] roommates, who are in conflict with one another.”
While the report cites phones as the major source of stalking nationwide, Solito points to another cause amongst college students.
“Social media is often used as a tool to conduct this behavior, either to communicate with or to know the location of the person being stalked,” Solito said.
While the study offers various statistics on sexual violence, the study doesn’t offer an explanation of the problem. But Solito gave insight into the reason.
“From my perspective it’s a cultural issue,” Solito said. “The whole issue of resorting to violence for no matter what the issue is seems to be an acceptable way to resolve conflict. Until society says it’s unacceptable we will continue to have to deal with it.”
To help prevent further cases from occurring on campus, Solito leads the charge to raise awareness at Slippery Rock University through the Women’s Center and the Bridge Project.
“The goal of educational efforts is to reach men and women, not simply to tell women what they need to do to be safe,” Solito said. “In 95 percent of the cases, men are the perpetrators of sexual violence. Therefore, men must be part of the solution if we are to end violence against women.”