Study: 1 in 5 U.S. Women Has Been Raped, Even More Have Been Abused

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a new survey Wednesday, and it is a shocking glimpse into the widespread violence American women face. It is the first study of its kind to consider national and state-level prevalence estimates for all states at once, and it found violence against women to be incredibly common. In a country where people, and men in particular, often downplay the obstacles women must overcome to secure jobs with pay equal to men or be heard by listeners who respect their ideas as much as men's, this data has two strong implications: The first is that women in America should be applauded for their courage and resilience. The second is that we have a long way to go.  

The report found that nearly one in five women has been raped; one in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner; and one in six women has been the victim of stalking that scared her or made her believe that she or someone close to her would be harmed or killed. 

Making the data even more depressing is that the vast majority of these attacks happened to women while they were young:About 80 percent of female rape victims were raped before they turned 25, the same age before which 70 percent of female victims experienced intimate partner violence.

Further darkening the data is a finding that is not new, but still stings: Across all forms of violence, the vast majority of victims knew their perpetrator. 

"This report highlights the heavy toll that sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence places on adults in this country. These forms of violence take the largest toll on women, who are more likely to report immediate impacts and long-term health problems caused by their victimization,” said Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Much victimization begins early in life, but the consequences can last a lifetime.”

According to the CDC:

The report findings also underscore violence as a major public health burden and demonstrate how violence can have impacts that last a lifetime. For instance, the findings indicate female victims of violence had a significantly higher prevalence of long-term health problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, frequent headaches, chronic pain, and difficulty sleeping. And nearly twice as many women who were victims of violence reported having asthma, compared to women who did not report violence victimization.

The study's findings for male victims were also despicable. According to the report, 

  • About 1 in 7 men has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
  • One in 19 men has experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • Almost 53 percent of male victims experienced some form of intimate partner violence for the first time before age of 25
  • More than one-quarter of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.
  • Male victims of violence (sexual violence, stalking, intimate partner violence) were significantly more likely to report physical and mental health problems than male non-victims

Clearly, we have a problem, or many problems, when rape and intimate partner violence are commonplace in a country that prides itself on equality. These acts are so embedded in our culture that it will take a long process of unlearning before we can progress towards a society where, in a family with four daughters, the odds are not that one of them, or their mother, has been raped. We must move away from a culture where objectifying women in magazines and on television makes our bodies commodities that are bought and sold, touched-up and changed, so that they are no longer ours; where the government puts  politics over science, and our bodies, to tell girls when they can and cannot receive emergency contraceptives, find affordable birth control, or have an abortion; and where rape culture has made it difficult to tell the difference between speech from a men's magazine and a rapist.

Our bodies and their functions are up for debate, sale, and exploitation. But we are fighting back. Women have made exemplary advances in the work place and education. It is incredible progress worthy of the utmost respect, but it is not enough to stop there.

As Howard Spivak, M.D., director of the Division of Violence Prevention in CDC′s Injury Center said,

“In addition to intervening and providing services, prevention efforts need to start earlier in life, with the ultimate goal of preventing all of these types of violence before they start.”  

But even when focusing on prevention, we must be careful not to accept victim blaming or the idea that a woman can prevent her own rape.  The conversation must focus on the rapists, why they rape, and the limitless importance of consent. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at December 14, 2011, 10:21am

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