About RAINN's Statistics
The scope and impact of sexual violence are difficult to measure, and there is no single source of data that provides a complete picture of the crime and its effect on all victims. Still, statistics are vital to understanding the crime, and can help spot trends and track patterns over time. The statistics on RAINN’s website have been selected from the most credible sources available to provide a look at sexual violence and the many ways it affects Americans each year.
The statistics on RAINN’s website cover a variety of topics, including the scope of sexual violence, sexual violence on college campuses, perpetrators, and data on specific crimes, like child sexual abuse.
We take care to identify and cite the most reliable sources for each topic. We also take into consideration a number of factors before including a statistic on our site, such as the credibility of the study’s sponsor; the sample size of the study; the questionnaire design; and other methodological elements.
The National Crime Victimization Survey is the primary source of data on RAINN’s site. NCVS, an annual study conducted by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), is the largest and most comprehensive crime measure in the United States. Researchers interview more than 150,000 Americans each year to learn about crimes that they’ve experienced. Based on those interviews, the study provides estimates of the total number of crimes, including those that were not reported to law enforcement. Learn more about how BJS measures rape and sexual assault.
Despite the large size of NCVS’ sample, the number of sexual assault victims identified each year is relatively small. To account for that, we generally use an average of the five most recent years of data, which smooths out anomalies in the year-to-year data.
There are certain limitations to NCVS data. Most importantly, because it relies on interviews with victims, children under age 12 are not included. Overall, NCVS estimates of sexual assault tend to be lower than estimates from other sources, primarily due to the way that other surveys define crimes of sexual violence and for other methodological reasons. Learn more about how NCVS estimates differ from other sources.
In order to provide a complete picture of the crime, we supplement NCVS data with statistics from other credible studies from the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and other government and academic sources.
Terms and phrases
For accuracy, we use the same terminology used in the original study that has been cited. Because different studies use different terms to refer to a particular population or type of crime, the wording of the statistics on RAINN’s website varies. For example, some studies measure three distinct types of crimes (completed rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault), while others combine all sex crimes into a single category. The terms and definitions that a study uses can have a big impact on its findings, which is why it is often impossible to compare or reconcile findings from varying studies. Each statistic includes a footnote citing the original source, where you can find more information about its methodology and a definition of its terms.
Sharing and citing statistics
If you are using a statistic from RAINN’s website in your article, report, website, or other publication, we ask that you include a hyperlink to the appropriate page on RAINN.org where readers can access the full citation. For example: “According to RAINN’s website (rainn.org), 82% of all victims under 18 are female.”
NCVS Measurement of Rape and Sexual Assault
The following content and definitions of of rape and sexual assault have been excepted from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) NCVS report.
The measurement of rape and sexual assault presents many challenges. Victims may not be willing to reveal or share their experiences with an interviewer. The level and type of sexual violence reported by victims is sensitive to a variety of factors related to the interview process, including how items are worded, which definitions are used, and the data collection mode. In addition, the legal definitions of rape and sexual assault vary across jurisdictions.
For the NCVS, survey respondents are asked to respond to a series of questions about the nature and characteristics of their victimization. The NCVS classifies victimizations as rape or sexual assault even if other crimes, such as robbery or assault, occurred at the same time. Then, the NCVS uses the following rape and sexual assault definitions:
- Rape is the unlawful penetration of a person against the will of the victim, with use or threatened use of force, or attempting such an act. Rape includes psychological coercion and physical force, and forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender. Rape also includes incidents where penetration is from a foreign object (e.g., a bottle), victimizations against male and female victims, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.
- Sexual assault is defined across a wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between a victim and offender. Sexual assault may or may not involve force and includes grabbing or fondling.
From 2005 to 2014, 30% of NCVS rape and sexual assault victimizations were classified as completed rape. Attempted rape or other sexual assault accounted for nearly 50% of rape or sexual assault victimizations. About 1 in 5 (18%) were verbal threats of rape or sexual assault.
Comparison of NCVS Estimates to Other Survey Estimates
Over the past several decades, a number of other surveys have also been used to study rape and sexual assault in the general population. BJS estimates of rape and sexual assault from the NCVS have typically been lower than estimates derived from other federal and private surveys. However, the NCVS methodology and definitions of rape and sexual assault differ from many of these surveys in important ways that contribute to the variation in estimates of the prevalence and incidence of these victimizations. Additional information about differences in self-report estimates of rape and sexual assault is available on the BJS website. BJS continues an active research program on the collection of rape and sexual assault data in an effort to improve the quality and accuracy of these estimates.
Despite the current differences in methods and estimates that exist between the NCVS and other surveys, a strength of the NCVS is its capacity to be used to make comparisons over time, as year-to-year comparisons are not affected by the NCVS methodology. Methodological differences that exist between the NCVS and the other surveys that lead to higher estimates of the levels of rape and sexual assault in the other surveys should not affect the within-NCVS comparisons of estimates from 2013 to 2014.