Nearly 1in 5 American Women Says She's Been Sexually Assaulted

Disturbing findings from a new government survey show that domestic violence is even more common than we thought

Almost one in five American women say they've been raped or have experienced an attempted rape at some point in their lives. One in four women and one in seven men report having been beaten by a romantic partner. And one in six women have been stalked. 

All together, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. These cheery statistics aren't hype -- they are the findings published on Wednesday in the National Intimate Partners and Sexual Violence Survey, a huge government survey of over 16,000 American adults. As Jezebel points out, these statistics aren't shocking or new. We already knew that sexual violence happens entirely too often. We also know that it is drastically underreported -- only 84,000 or so rapes were reported to authorities in 2010, but based on rates of sexual assault reported by survey participants, the government's researchers think the actual total is closer to 1.3 million.

What's shocking about these statistics is that we kinda already knew about them -- but we aren't doing nearly enough to change the situation. We shame and blame the victims of sexual violence, wondering whether they were asking for it, or what their motives are for speaking out. We even do this when those victims are children, as when the New York Times focused its reporting on the Texas gang rape of an 11-year-old girl on her age-inappropriate "makeup and fashions" earlier this year. Or, when the Penn State students rioted to protest the firing of Joe Paterno even though they should have been focused on the children who were hurt by his decision to keep quiet about Jerry Sandusky's years of pedophilia. "There is no other crime I can think of where the victim is more victimized," Rebecca Cambpell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University who studies the ramifications of rape, told Jane Brodey in this week's New York Times column. "The victim is always on trial."

We also glorify sexual violence through the media: Sorry Vampire Diaries fans, but those "rape is sexy" plotlines where Elena swoons over Stefan's killing sprees have really gotten out of hand this season. Ditto Grimm, which can't seem to find an episode where a woman doesn't end up caged, raped or dead, as S.E. Smith notes over on xoJane

And we dismiss abuse when it happens in more subtle forms -- like verbal abuse or emotional manipulation, like tricking your girlfriend into dieting (which one astute reader noted is more or less tantamount to gaslighting, a horrific form of psychological abuse where the abused is tricked into doubting his or herself). It's bad enough that our culture endorses this kind of jerkiness for its own sake -- but left unchecked, verbal abuse can and often does escalate to physical violence.

Now that we know exactly how big this problem has become, it's time to change our culture's attitude towards sexual violence and its victims. You can help by donating or volunteering with the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), or get involved with public policy issues. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for help at 1.800.656.HOPE.

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