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Millions of Americans Are Victims of Sexual Violence: CDC

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Every minute in the United States, 24 people are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, according to an estimate from a new federal report.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 million American women and men suffer some type of partner violence each year, with by far the biggest burden borne by women.

American women suffer more than 1 million rapes annually, the CDC report said, and almost one in every five women will be the victim of rape at some point in her life.

Men aren't immune from such victimization either, however, with one in seven experiencing intimate partner violence during their lifetime.

This is the first such report on sexual violence compiled by the CDC, and "the numbers from the first year of data collection are astounding," Linda Degutis, director of the agency's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said during a press conference Wednesday. "Most of the victims first experienced this type of violence before they were 25 years old, often during their teenage years," she added.

"Sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence are widespread and an important public health problem in this country," Degutis said. "We know this even without knowing the true magnitude of this problem. Many victims do not report this type of violence to the police, friends, family, or health providers."

The effect on victims can be immediate, Degutis said. "Eighty-one percent of women and 37 percent of men who experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner reported at least one impact of the violence, such as fear, concern for safety, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, injury, missing at least one day of work or school and the need for medical care or other victim services," she noted.

And some effects can last a lifetime. For example, "It's much more likely that women who experience violence will have long-term health problems," Degutis said.

The treatment and aftermath of sexual violence is also expensive, costing the nation more than $8 billion a year, Degutis said.

The new report is the first to provide national and state-level estimates of sexual violence. It's also the first report in 15 years to quantify the extent of this problem.

Other key findings include:

For women:

  • One in four women has suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime.
  • One in six has been stalked during her lifetime, thinking that she or someone close to her would be harmed or killed. Much of the stalking occurred over the phone and, more recently, by text messages.
  • Almost 70 percent of females were under 25 when they experienced some type of intimate partner violence for the first time.
  • About 80 percent of rape victims experienced the assault before the age of 25.
  • Women who experienced sexual violence, stalking or intimate partner violence were more likely to report physical and mental health problems than non-victims.
  • Most women who were victims knew their abuser.

For men:

  • About one in seven men has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.
  • One in 19 has been stalked at some time. These men were fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • Almost 53 percent of the victims experienced some form of intimate partner violence before they were the age of 25.
  • Over 25 percent of male rape victims were raped when they were 10 years of age or younger.
  • Male victims of sexual violence were significantly more likely to report physical and mental health problems than non-victims.

One expert in the field called the magnitude of the problem "staggering."

"The CDC survey findings also show a strong link between violence and health problems," said Esta Soler, founder and president of Futures Without Violence, an advocacy group based in San Francisco. "And given that victimization is starting younger, we need to do more to prevent violence with intervention programs for children and adolescents."

Degutis agreed. "Prevention needs to begin early by promoting healthy, respectful relationships in families," she said.

More information

For more on sexual violence, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Esta Soler, founder and president, Futures Without Violence, San Francisco; Dec. 14, 2011, press conference with Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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