NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rape Statistics Are Debated

November 19, 1998

Like other violent crimes, the incidence of rape has fallen every year since 1992, according the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual crime report and the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey. But the first National Violence Against Women survey says more than twice as many rapes are committed each year as official statistics indicate.

The new survey, commissioned by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) and the National Institute of Justice, based its estimates on detailed interviews with 8,000 men and 8,000 women.

  • The CDCP survey estimated more than 876,000 rapes are committed in a typical year in the U.S., compared to the 432,000 rapes estimated to occur by the National Crime Victimization Survey.
  • Unlike FBI figures for rape, it includes males who have been raped by men or women -- which it estimates occurs about 111,000 times a year -- and children younger than age 12.
  • Also, the CDCP survey estimates one in seven American women have been raped, lending support to advocates of rape victims and others who argue rape is holding steady or growing while other violent crime declines.
  • The survey says the typical female rape victim is raped nearly three times a year, often by her husband or domestic partner.

However, criminologists say rapes have declined. The official FBI crime report, based on rapes actually reported to police, shows a 12 percent decline since 1993. And the National Crime Victimization Survey -- which is considered more accurate because it includes crimes not reported to the police -- shows a 60 percent downturn in rape between 1993 and 1996.

Experts also point to the shrinking pool of men ages 29 or younger, the group that accounts for more than half of all rapes, as support for the reported decline. And they say a nationwide move to longer prison sentences for violent offenders is keeping convicted rapists off the street longer.

Source: Kevin Johnson, "Rape Statistics Not Crystal Clear," and Richard Willing, "Survey Doubles Rape Estimates," USA Today, November 19, 1998.


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