Last week the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the report Female Victims of Sexual Violence 1994-2000. The most salient point is a decline in sexual assault rates reported. Over that 15 year period, the rate of females age 12 and over who are sexually assaulted decreased 58%, from 5 victims per 1,000 to 2.1 victims per 1,000 annually. We’re heading in the right direction, but we shouldn’t rest until there are NO MORE.
Another very important point is that 78% of sexual violence involved an offender who was known to the victim—a family members, partner, friend or acquaintance. For many of us, the visual image of a rapist is the masked man jumping out of the bushes. Women typically (and wisely!) take extra precautions when walking alone or in unfamiliar surroundings. However, they often feel safe from harm when in the company of people they know even casually.
That stereotyped image of the dangerous stranger, engenders a false sense of security. We feel safe on our home turf, with people we know. In fact, according to RAINN, half of all reportedsexual assaults occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home-- 4 in 10 take place in their home and 2 in 10 at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
So does that mean women should live in a constant state of high alert? No. But having the information that sexual predators are most frequently someone you know, is an important reminder to practice basic safety routinely. Be aware of your surroundings. Know that excessive alcohol or drug use could impair your judgment and make you more vulnerable to predators. And most importantly, if a situation feels uncomfortable, trust your gut.