Last week the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control released the results of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. The report shows an alarmingly high rate of sexual violence and stalking against both men and women. It also cites the underreporting of sexual assaults, the vulnerability of child victims, and the impact that these crimes have on our health care system, which serves victims suffering from complications including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These results appear to be consistent with earlier studies released by the CDC and other reports suggesting that the nation's campuses are experiencing an increased incidence of sexual assaults, and that such assaults are being reported more frequently. Colleges and universities are treating allegations of sexual misconduct with far greater seriousness than ever before, and making greater use of formal reporting processes, disciplinary procedures, and sanctions. All of these findings suggest that young adults going off to college must have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities in terms of dating and encounters with others. Their future and well-being hinge upon it.

Selected Key Findings of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey

Sexual Violence by Any Perpetrator

  • Nearly one in five women (28.3%)1 in the United States report being raped at some point in their lives.
  • More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance; for male victims, more than half (52.4%) reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger.
  • 13% of women and 6% of men have experienced sexual coercion in their lifetime, and 27.2% of women and 11.7% of men have experienced unwanted sexual contact.
  • Most female rape victims (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25; 42.2% experienced their first rape before the age of 18.

Violence by an Intimate Partner

  • More than one in three women (35.6%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Nearly one in ten American women (9.4%) experienced rape by an intimate partner, and an estimated 16.9% of women and 8.0% of men have experienced sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner.
  • About one in four women (24.3%) and one in seven men (13.8%) have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • An estimated 10.7% of women and 2.1% of men have been stalked by an intimate partner.
  • Most female and male victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner (69% of female victims and 53% of male victims) experienced some form of intimate partner violence for the first time before 25 years of age.

The report also indicates that stalking is widespread, with one in six women reporting that they have been victimized. Repeated unwanted telephone calls and voice or text messages were the most common tactics experienced by both female and male stalking victims.

Reports of Sexual Violence on Campus

Both sexual violence and the reporting of sexual assaults on college and university campuses are increasing. The University of Vermont, for example, reported seven instances of sexual assault on campus between August 2009 and April 2010. Additionally, ten New England universities and colleges provided data as part of a campus grant program overseen by the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women. These schools reported more than 240 alleged assaults between 2003 and 2008, four of which led to expulsions. The grant recipients in Massachusetts included Salem State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern, Tufts, and UMass Amherst.

The Toll on Health and Productivity

Individuals who experience sexual violence and stalking are much more likely to report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty with sleeping, activity limitations, poor physical health, and poor mental health than men and women who did not experience these forms of violence. In a 2005 study using data from a national telephone survey of 8,000 women, those experiencing physical intimate partner violence victimization reported an average of 7.2 days of work-related lost productivity and 33.9 days in productivity losses associated with other activities per year, and more than half of stalking victims lost five days or more of work.

All of the findings cited above suggest that sexual violence is taking a shocking toll on the nation, and that our communities must do far more to prevent sexual violence and its damaging consequences. But these reports also demonstrate that parents must be aware of the risks and consequences of sexual violence, and learn how to protect themselves and their families in the event that they or their children are either victimized by an abuser or face charges of sexual misconduct.

Steps to Take to Protect Your Family and Children

There are a number of steps that parents can take to help safeguard themselves and their loved ones:

1. Think hard about who is alone with your children. It isn't uncommon to find that perpetrators are boyfriends, male friends, or acquaintances of other family members who have gained access to their victims through pre-existing relationships.

2. Foster open communications. Maintaining open and trusting relationships with our children is the best and only chance we have of getting them to confide in us when and if they become victims of predatory behavior.

3. Seek help if anyone in your family is victimized or suspected of victimizing. Be aware that conversations with a spouse or with victims' services providers such as physicians, psychiatrists, and social workers are privileged, and disclosure of these conversations can't be compelled.

4. Be sure your college-bound student, male or female, fully understands what behavior is acceptable when it comes to dating and romantic encounters. Colleges and universities are taking a zero tolerance policy toward sexual assaults and even unwanted sexual advances. It is imperative to understand the school's code of conduct and disciplinary exposure as spelled out in the student handbook. Sexual misconduct can result in both criminal and academic discipline.

5. If your child is the subject of an accusation of sexual assault and/or domestic relations violence, act immediately to effectively assert his or her legal rights. Preventing interviews with the accused, for example, can protect against having their statements used against them. Once formal charges are made, even at the college or university disciplinary level, they are extremely difficult to reverse. The school will try to convene an academic disciplinary hearing immediately, before the student has a chance to talk to you or appreciate the seriousness of the charges. While withdrawal from school may have been a viable option in the past, schools are now under extreme pressure not to allow accused students to withdraw prior to or during a disciplinary process. And once an adverse finding is made, the accused student's procedural rights are skewed significantly in favor of the institution.


1 The findings presented in the CDC's report are for 2010, the first year of data collection, and are based on complete interviews obtained from 16,507 adults (9,086 women and 7,421 men).

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