The Truth About Sexual Assault

Blog Header - Guest PostApril is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In this guest post, Justin Holcomb shares some important statistics related to sexual assault in our country and around the world. He and his wife, Lindsey, are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault, which is currently on sale via Crossway Impact (paperback - $5.00; e-book - $0.99).


It's More Prevalent Than You Think . . .

Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, it's clear that at any given time, hundreds of assaults are happening around the world.

The number of occurrences of sexual assault is staggering. It affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide. Unfortunately, the prevalence of sexual assault in the United States is difficult to determine because the crime is greatly under-reported. However, the statistics are still overwhelmingly high: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.

These statistics are probably underestimates...

Some victims have been sexually assaulted from when they are a few days old, and some are in their 90s. People can be assaulted regardless of their color, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability. Sexual assault is a frequent phenomenon and is a common experience for many women and men.

Startling Statistics

Approximately 80% of victims are assaulted by someone they know (relative, spouse, dating partner, friend, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, doctor, etc.).

Most victims of sexual assault are female. African-American women are assaulted at a higher rate than white women and are much less likely to report it and get help.
According to the Bureau of Justice, women 16 to 19 years old have the highest rate of sexual victimization of any age group.

The National Center for Juvenile Justice reports that one out of every seven victims of sexual assault (or 14% of all victims) reported to law enforcement agencies was under the age of 6 and that approximately 70% of the victims knew their offender.

Sexual assault can occur in marriage and between dates and friends. Researchers have estimated that sexual assault occurs in 10-14% of all marriages. Studies estimate that incest is experienced by 10-20% percent of children in the general population.

15% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 12, 29% are ages 12-17, and 80% are under the age of 30. The highest risk years are ages 12-34, with girls ages 16-19 four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

Most victims of child sexual assault knew their attacker: 34.2% of assailants were family members, 58.7% were acquaintances, and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim. Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10% of victims are 3 and under, 28% are between ages 4-7, 26% are between ages 8-11, and 36% are 12 and older.

Childhood and Adult Sexual Assault

There is a high association between sexual abuse as a child and sexual assault occurring to the same individual in the future. Adults who experienced childhood abuse are at an increased risk of adult re-victimization. Childhood sexual assault is especially common among sexually assaulted men and women (61% and 59% respectively).

Women who were sexually assaulted as children were at least twice as likely to be assaulted in adulthood. The statistics regarding male victims are even more dramatic. Men who were sexually assaulted as children are five times more likely to be assaulted in adulthood.

Unreliable Reporting

With regard to the reporting of sexual assault, there are two major issues to consider—false-reporting and under-reporting. While under-reporting is a major concern, false-reporting is not. In reality, false reports are quite rare. The figure often used by sexual violence experts for estimating falsified reports is 2%, which is a slightly lower rate than when looking at other types of crimes.

Given the horrific nature of sexual assault and the shame it brings to victims, it is not shocking that it is one of the most underreported crimes. The fear of intrusive and re-victimizing court procedures prevents many sexual assault survivors from reporting their assaults. Most sexual assault victims choose not to report their assaults. According to the FBI, sexual assault is “one of the most under-reported crimes due primarily to fear and/or embarrassment on the part of the victim.”

Why It Matters

Despite our inability to paint a complete picture of the prevalence of sexual assault, statistics can help us better understand just how many people are suffering from the trauma and distress following an assault. These statistics also show us who the victims are. The need for care is great.

Pastors and ministry leaders need to know about the disgrace many people are experiencing. Sadly, the odds are high that you or a few people in your life are victims of sexual assault.

The good news is that assault does not have to have the last word on victims’ lives. Yes, abuse is part of the story. But it need not be the end of the story.

The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and works grace out of disgrace.


Justin S. Holcomb (PhD, Emory University) is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his wife are the coauthors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault and Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

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