Sexual Assault

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1 March 2016

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Rape is considered a type of sexual assault, which is initiated by one or more people against another person without that persons consent. The act may have been forced, under threat, or with a person who is incapable to give a valid consent(1). The definition of rape has changed throughout history and is different in different parts of the world. According to the American Medical Association, sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime(2). There have been significant changes to improve the treatment of sexual assault victims in the last two decades. The rate of reporting, prosecution and convictions for rape varies in different jurisdictions. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 91% of U.S. rape victims are female and 9% are male, with 99% of the offenders being male(3). In one survey of women, only two percent of respondents who stated they were sexually assaulted said that the assault was perpetrated by a stranger(3). Several studies argue that male-male and female-female prison rape are common and may be the least reported forms of rape. Rape is also recognized as an element of the crime of genocide when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted ethnic group(3). Rape is defined in many jurisdictions as sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual penetration, of one person by another person without the consent of the victim. The World Health Organization defined rape in 2002 as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration even if slight of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.

Some countries such as Germany are now, however, using more broad definitions which do not require penetration(4). During the 1970’s the anti-rape movement was created in the United States. Rape crisis centers were created in San Francisco, California and Washington D. C. in 1972. The people involved in these centers realized that rape is more common than they thought, and it impacts the lives of women negatively on their health and freedom. The point of these centers was to educate the society about rape and prevention, and to help rape victims(2). There were several goals that they wanted to achieve which were, improvements in the way criminal justice officials treat rape victims, a more clear understanding of the impact of rape, improved medical and mental health services, and better funding for rape crisis centers and others who assist victims.(2) These goals have all been met. Before the 1960’s, the definition of rape was “A carnal knowledge of a woman not ones wife by force or against her will.”(3) In 1962 the United States Model Penal Code was created and made an updated definition which was “A man who has sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife is guilty of rape if he compels her to submit by force or threat of force or threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain, or kidnapping.” This definition was known to be a bit narrow because it does not have anything about rape within marriage or couples who live together; it focused more on the consent of the victim and not the force of the attacker.

The Model Penal Code created a grading system for rape and other similar offenses of that nature(1). It was basically saying that rape by a voluntary social companion was not as serious as rape by a complete stranger. Also rape done to men was considered a lesser felony then if it was to a woman. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the legal definition of rape changed. Michigan’s Criminal Sexual Conduct Statute became the national model for an expanded definition. They define it as, gender neutrality, broadening earlier definitions to include men, acts of sexual penetration other than vaginal penetration by a penis, distinguishing sexual abuse by the degree of force or threat of force used, threats as well as overt force, are recognized as means of overpowering victims, and taking advantage of an incapacitated victim. This includes mental illness, victims under the influence of drugs and alcohol(2). The 1986 federal statute defines two different types of assault; they are sexual abuse, and aggravated sexual abuse(3). The definition of sexual abuse by the Federal Criminal Code is, causing another person to engage in a sexual activity by threatening or placing that person in fear, and engaging in a sexual act if that person is incapable of declining participation in or communicating unwillingness to engage in that sexual act.

There is “no sexual penetration actually occurred but when the intentional touching of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person occurs.” (4) When a person knowingly causes another person to engage in a sexual act is aggravated sexual abuse by force or threat of force. They attempt to do so by using force against that person by threatening or putting them in fear that they will be killed, receive a injury, or kidnapping(2). Aggravated sexual abuse by other means is when a person knowingly renders another person unconscious and then starts a sexual act with that person, or by force or threat of force, a drug, intoxicant, or other substance to impair judgment(4). Aggravated sexual abuse with a child is when a person knowingly engages in a sexual act with a child who is under 12 years old. The definition for aggravated sexual abuse by for force or threat of force is similar to what is usually called forcible rape(4). There have been many changes in the definition rape over the years.

Although there have been many improvements there are still areas that are lacking. It does not say anything about what the victim’s state of mind was at the time of the crime such as fear of death or serious injury. Also the types of unwanted sexual acts involved the types of force or the type of force used, and the ages of the victims and perpetrators. The National Crime Victimization Survey conducts statistics each year to measure reported and unreported crime of rape and other sexual assaults. Every six months, people who are 12 years old and older in around 50,000 randomly selected homes are interviewed about crimes that happened since the last interview(3). The NCVS gives information about the percentage of cases reported to police and characteristics of cases. It does not measure the rapes of people 12 and younger and it cannot measure rapes that occurred prior to the six month reference period. Also it does not get interviews from homeless women(3). Most sexual assaults are not reported to the police. The best data on unreported crime comes from the surveys of the victims. The surveys interview adults and young adults asking if they have been victims in crimes and if they reported the crime. If victim did not report the crime, some surveys ask why. In 1994 only 32% of sexual assault cases were reported. 16% of rape cases were reported to police. There was a study on non incarcerated sex offenders, 126 men admitted they had raped(4). These 126 rapists had committed a total of 907 rapes involving 882 different victims. The average number of different victims per rapist was 7(4). Rape in America is a tragedy of youth because the majority of rape cases happen during childhood and adolescence. 29% of all forcible rapes occurred when the victim was less than 11 years old. Another 32% occurred when the victim was between ages 11 to 17. Between ages of 18 to 24 is 22%. 7% of rapes happened between ages 25 to 29. Only 1% of rapes happened when the victim was older than 29 years old(2).

National Violence against Women survey found that most women are not raped by strangers. Only 22% of rape victims were assaulted by someone they had never met before. 9% were raped by husbands or ex husbands. 11% by fathers or stepfathers. 10% by boyfriends or ex boyfriends. 16% by other relatives. 29% by other non relative, such as friends or neighbors(2). The data given shows that most rapes are committed by offenders who know their victim. It helps figure out how rape cases should be investigated and prosecuted. If most victims know the identity of their perpetrator, than the investigative issue is not collecting evidence to identify the perpetrator, it will most likely be to require evidence refuting claims by the alleged perpetrator that the sexual activity was consensual. Known perpetrators are unlikely to claim they were mistakenly identified as a defense because forensic examinations con conclusively link the perpetrator to the assault(4). Successful prosecutions of rape cases often require victims to produce evidence of physical injuries to prove they did not consent. The fact that the vast majority of rape victims do not sustain major physical injuries also has clear implications for investigation and prosecution. The first implication is that most victims will not show physical injuries, causing many people to conclude the victim consented(3).

The second implication is that forensic examinations must focus on detecting evidence of physical injuries that are not consistent with consensual sexual activity. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and jurors need to be informed about these physical injury data. This information indicates that most rapes and other sexual assaults involve relatively young victims – not adult women, as most people believe. This suggests that separate investigative protocols should be established for adult and child victims(3). In 1994 attempted crimes and crimes that did not have physical injuries were less likely to be reported to the police. Violent crime victims chose to report their crime because they wanted to prevent this from happening in the future. A main reason why some victims do not report a crime is because they want to keep their privacy. Victims also don’t report the crime because they were afraid of being blamed by others, they did not want their family to find out about the rape, also they did not want other people to find out about it, they also did not want their names to become public in the news and media. If these concerns were addressed it is possible that it would encourage more people to report a rape once it is committed. A list of actions that would increase victim’s willingness to report rapes to the police are: educate the public about acquaintance rape, pass laws protecting confidentiality of victim’s identity, expand counseling services, and provide free pregnancy counseling and abortions, confidential and free HIV and STD tests. To increase rape cases it must require a lot of public education, especially acquaintance rape(2). It also will require victims to have access to needed support services that they know are private.

Foot Notes:
1. 1. Criminal Law Today Frank Schmalleger, Daniel E. Hall, pages 253-257 2. 3. 4.

1. 1. Criminal Law Today Frank Schmalleger, Daniel E. Hall, pages 253-257 2. 3. 4.

Cite this page

Sexual Assault. (1 March 2016). Retrieved from

"Sexual Assault" StudyScroll, 1 March 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Sexual Assault [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 29 March, 2023]

"Sexual Assault" StudyScroll, Mar 1, 2016. Accessed Mar 29, 2023.

"Sexual Assault" StudyScroll, Mar 1, 2016.

"Sexual Assault" StudyScroll, 1-Mar-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 29-Mar-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Sexual Assault. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 29-Mar-2023]

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