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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

Making Sense of Rape in America: Where Do the Numbers Come From and What Do They Mean?

General Material
Published Date
September, 2004

How many adults and children in the United States have ever been raped? How many victims are raped each year at the national, state, and local levels? How does the scope of the problem in one setting compare to that in another (e.g., urban vs. rural; New York vs. California; Pacific vs. mid-Atlantic regions)? Without answers to these questions, it is impossible to know the magnitude of the rape problem in a particular setting or to put it in perspective. Public policymakers, the public health system, the criminal justice system, and rape crisis centers cannot estimate the success of their efforts to prevent rape, apprehend and punish rapists, and provide effective services to rape victims without such information. Further, efforts to advance practice and policy are impeded when decisions are based on inaccurate, mixed, or contradictory statistics. Unfortunately, existing sources have produced inconsistent estimates on the prevalence of rape. As a result, service providers and policymakers have been faced with the burden of approximating the degree to which each source accurately estimates the true prevalence of rape at the national, state, or local level. In turn, this process hinders sound, efficient decision making.

This paper is designed to help public policy officials, health care professionals, and other pertinent professionals understand how rape in America is measured, what the numbers mean, and what the limitations are of existing research.

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