Statistics on rape and sexual assault are common in Western countries and are becoming more common throughout the world. Inconsistent definitions of rape, over reporting, under reporting and false reporting create controversial statistical disparities, and lead to accusations that many rape statistics are unreliable or misleading. According to USA Today reporter Kevin Johnson "no other major category of crime - not murder, assault or robbery - has generated a more serious challenge of the credibility of national crime statistics" than rape.
A United Nations statistical report compiled from government sources showed that more than 2 cases of male-female rape or attempted rape were recorded by police annually. The reported data covered 65 countries.
Over- and under-reporting
According to the 1999 United States National Crime Victimization Survey, only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement officials. For male rape, less than 10% are believed to be reported. Female-male and female-female rape are ignored altogether in this survey. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 government report in England says "Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 per cent of rape crimes are never reported to the police."
Traditional (male-female) focused rape-related advocacy groups have suggested several tactics to encourage the reporting of sexual assaults, most of which aim at lessening the psychological trauma, often suffered by female rape victims following their assault by male rapists. Many police departments now assign female police officers to deal with rape cases. Advocacy groups also argue for the preservation of the victim's privacy during the legal process; it is standard practice among mainstream American news media not to divulge the names of alleged rape victims in news reports but this practice is becoming increasingly controversial due to well publicized cases of false rape accusations. Traditional rape-related advocacy groups are also beginning to support male-male rape victims as well as male-female rape victims. Other advocacy groups that support male victims of female rape encourage recognition of female-male rape as rape rather than as a 'love affair', a 'relationship', or as a beneficial form of sex 'education'. However, female-male and female-female rape is rarely recognized as a statistically significant form of rape despite research indicating otherwise. Thus reporting rape by females remains difficult or impossible especially in jurisdictions where rape by a female is considered no crime or where the false perception persists that rape of a male by a female is impossible.
Canadian researcher Linda Halliday-Sumner suggests from the slowly emerging information about female sex crimes that women commit about one third of all sexual offenses. However, she notes that, in Canada, just 19 of 4545 (or just 0.4%) federal prisoners convicted of sex offenses were women in 1997.
Authors A.W. Burgess and R.R. Hazelwood observe that "little is published which addresses the issue and concept of false allegation." The classification of "false reporting" makes no distinction between women who wilfully misreport and women who mistakenly identify innocent men. Figures on false reporting used by journalists have ranged from 2% to 50% depending on their sources:
"... one explanation for such a wide range in the statistics might simply be that they come from different studies of different populations... But there's also a strong political tilt to the debate. A low number would undercut a belief about rape as being as old as the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife: that some women, out of shame or vengeance ... claim that their consensual encounters or rebuffed advances were rapes. If the number is high, on the other hand, advocates for women who have been raped worry it may also taint the credibility of the genuine victims of sexual assault."
In her work, "The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault", Michelle J. Anderson of the Villanova University School of Law states: "As a scientific matter, the frequency of false rape complaints to police or other legal authorities remains unknown.". The FBI's 1996 Uniform Crime Report states that 8% of reports of forcible rape were determined to be unfounded upon investigation, but that percentage does not include cases where an accuser fails or refuses to cooperate in an investigation or drops the charges. A British study using a similar methodology that does not include the accusers who drop out of the justice process found a false reporting rate of 8% as well.
In 1994, Dr. Eugene J. Kanin of Purdue University investigated the incidences, in one small unidentified urban community, of false rape allegations made to the police between 1978 and 1987. Dr. Kanin asserts that "unlike those in many larger jurisdictions, this police department had the resources to "seriously record and pursue to closure all rape complaints, regardless of their merits". He further states each investigation "always involves a serious offer to polygraph the complainants and the suspects." and "the complainant must admit that no rape had occurred. She is the sole agent who can say that the rape charge is false." The falseness of the allegations was not decided by the police, Dr. Kanin, nor upon physical or testimonial evidence. The number of false rape allegations concluded in the studied period was 45; this was 41% of the 109 total complaints filed in this period. In Dr. Kanin's research, the complainants who made false allegations did so (by their own statements during recantation) for one or some combination of three major reasons:
- providing an alibi. Dr. Kanin's report describes a woman who got into a bar fight and, fearing that this might prevent her from regaining custody of her children, filed a rape complaint to account for her injuries.
- a means of gaining revenge. Dr. Kanin's report describes an 18 year old woman who engages in consensual sex with a boarder staying at her house. After he refuses to continue their relationship she accuses him of rape.
- a platform for seeking attention/sympathy. Dr. Kanin's report describes a woman who becomes attracted to her therapist and in an attempt to elicit sympathy from him fabricates a story of rape and is subsequently pressured by him to report it to the police. Dr. Kanin also looked at the police records of two large mid western state universities and found that, of the 64 rape accusations, 32 (50%) were eventually recanted. Unlike the city police in the other study, the university police did not use polygraph examinations and the investigations were all performed by female officers. This figure also forms a lower estimate of the total number of false accusations reported to the police during this period and it is similarly possible that there were false accusations that were never recanted and resulted in convictions. However Kanin warns against reading too much into his results: "Certainly our intent is not to suggest that the 41 percent incidence found here be extrapolated to other populations, particularly in light of our ignorance regarding the structural variables."
Criticism of Dr. Kanin's report include Dr. David Lisak, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Men’s Sexual Trauma Research Project at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In the September/October 2007 issue of the Sexual Assault Report he states “Kanin’s 1994 article on false allegations is a provocative opinion piece, but it is not a scientific study of the issue of false reporting of rape. It certainly should never be used to assert a scientific foundation for the frequency of false allegations.” He further states “[ Dr. Kanin] simply reiterates the opinions of the police officers who concluded that the cases in question were ‘false allegations.’” Lisak cites page 13 of Investigating Sexual Assaults from the International Association of Chiefs of Police which says polygraph tests for sexual assault victims are contradicted in the investigation process and that their use is “based on the misperception that a significant percentage of sexual assault reports are false...It is noteworthy that the police department from which Kanin derived his data used or threatened to use the polygraph in every case...The fact that it was the standard procedure of this department provides a window on the biases of the officers who conducted the rape investigations, biases that were then echoed in Kanin’s unchallenged reporting of their findings.”
A 2006 paper by N.S. Rumney in the Cambridge Law Journal provided an exhaustive account of studies of false reporting in the USA, New Zealand and the UK. Rumney notes that early researchers tended to accept uncritically Freudian theories which purported to explain the prevalence of false allegations, while in more recent literature there has been "a lack of critical analysis of those who claim a low false reporting rate and the uncritical adoption of unreliable research findings" (p. 157) Rumney concludes that "as a consequence of such deficiencies within legal scholarship, factual claims have been repeatedly made that have only limited empirical support. This suggests widespead analytical failure on the part of legal scholarship and requires an acknowledgement of the weakness of assumptions that have been constructed on unreliable research evidence".
Former Colorado prosecutor Craig Silverman once stated "During my time as a prosecutor who made case filing decisions, I was amazed to see all the false rape allegations that were made…Any honest veteran sex assault investigator will tell you that rape is one of the most falsely reported crimes that there is [...] A command officer in the Denver Police sex assaults unit recently told me he placed the false rape numbers at approximately 45 percent." 
This list indicates the number of, and per capita cases of recorded rape. It does not include cases of rape which go unreported, or which are not recorded. Nor does it specify whether recorded means reported, brought to trial, or convicted.
|Country||2008 Count||2009 Count||2008 Rate / 100,000||2009 Rate / 100,000|
|Republic of Moldova||231||262||6.3||7.2|
|Syrian Arab Republic||125||156||0.6||0.7|
|United Kingdom (England and Wales)||12,637||13,093||23.4||24.1|
|United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)||422||396||24.0||22.3|
|United States of America||90,427||89,000||29.3||28.6|
According to United States Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were overall 191,670 victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005. Only 16% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police (Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. 1992). 1 of 6 U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. (according to Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault) The U.S. Department of Justice compiles statistics on crime by race, but only between and among people categorized as black or white. The statistics for whites include hispanic and non hispanic whites combined. There were 194,270 white and 17,920 black victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2006. Out of the 194,270 cases involving white victims, 50.6% had white offenders and 16.7% had black offenders, while the 36,620 black victims had a figure of 43% black offenders, the remaining being of other or unreported race, with a negligible number of white offenders. Some types of rape are excluded from official reports altogether, (the FBI's definition for example excludes all rapes except forcible rapes of females), because a significant number of rapes go unreported even when they are included as reportable rapes, and also because a significant number of rapes reported to the police do not advance to prosecution.
U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (1999) estimated that 91% of rape victims are female and 9% are male, with 99% of the offenders being male. Denov (2004) states that societal responses to the issue of female perpetrators of sexual assault "point to a widespread denial of women as potential sexual aggressors that could work to obscure the true dimensions of the problem."
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the adjusted per-capita victimization rate of rape has declined from about 2.4 per 1000 people (age 12 and above) in 1980 to about 0.4 per 1000 people, a decline of about 85%. But other government surveys, such as the Sexual Victimization of College Women study, critique the NCVS on the basis it includes only those acts perceived as crimes by the victim, and report a higher victimization rate.
From 2000-2005, 59% of rapes were not reported to law enforcement. One factor relating to this is misconception that most rapes are committed by strangers. In reality, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 38% of victims were raped by a friend or acquaintance, 28% by "an intimate" and 7% by another relative, and 26% were committed by a stranger to the victim. About four out of ten sexual assaults take place at the victim's own home.
Drug use, especially alcohol, is frequently involved in rape. In 47% of rapes, both the victim and the perpetrator had been drinking. In 17%, only the perpetrator had been. 7% of the time, only the victim had been drinking. Rapes where neither the victim nor the perpetrator had been drinking were 29% of all rapes.
Contrary to widespread belief, rape outdoors is rare. Over two thirds of all rapes occur in someone's home. 30.9% occur in the perpetrators' homes, 26.6% in the victims' homes and 10.1% in homes shared by the victim and perpetrator. 7.2% occur at parties, 7.2% in vehicles, 3.6% outdoors and 2.2% in bars.
Despite a decline of 60% since 1993, the US still has a relatively high rate of rape when compared to other developed countries. For more information, please see the statistics subsection of the article Rape in the United States.
According to a news report on BBC One presented in 12 November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. According to that report one of every 200 women in the UK was raped in 2006. The report also showed that only 800 persons were convicted in rape crimes that same year.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In eastern Congo, the prevalence and intensity of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world. It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 surviving rape victims living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today. War rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo has frequently been described as a "weapon of war" by commentators. Louise Nzigire, a local social worker, states that “this violence was designed to exterminate the population.” Nzigire observes that rape has been a "cheap, simple weapon for all parties in the war, more easily obtainable than bullets or bombs."
It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read. One in three of the 4,000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year.
South Africa has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world. In a related survey conducted among 1,500 schoolchildren in the Soweto township, a quarter of all the boys interviewed said that 'jackrolling', a term for gang rape, was fun. More than 25% of a sample of 1,738 South African men from the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces admitted when anonymously questioned to raping someone; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person, according to a non-peer reviewed policy brief issued by the Medical Research Council (MRC). Several news publications extrapolated these results to the rest of the South African population. The humanitarian news organisation IRIN claims that an estimated that 500,000 rapes are committed annually in South Africa, but does not provide a source for this figure.
More than 67,000 cases of rape and sexual assaults against children were reported in 2000 in South Africa. Child welfare groups believe that the number of unreported incidents could be up to 10 times that number. A belief common to South Africa holds that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure a man of HIV or AIDS. South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive citizens in the world. According to official figures, one in eight South Africans are infected with the virus. Edith Kriel, a social worker who helps child victims in the Eastern Cape, said: “Child abusers are often relatives of their victims - even their fathers and providers.”
According to University of Durban-Westville anthropology lecturer and researcher Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala, the myth that sex with a virgin is a cure for AIDS is not confined to South Africa. “Fellow AIDS researchers in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria have told me that the myth also exists in these countries and that it is being blamed for the high rate of sexual abuse against young children.”
Most rape research and reporting to date has been limited to male-female forms of rape. Research on male-male and female-male is beginning to be done. However, almost no research has been done on female-female rape, though women can be charged with rape.
- "Rape statistics not crystal clear" by Kevin Johnson, USA Today, November 19, 1998
- The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2001 - 2002) - Table 02.08 Total recorded rapes
- Statistics can be misleading 08/08/04
- Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Without consent: A report on the joint review of the investigation and prosecution of rape offences, January 2007 accessed at  April 5, 2007 - p.8
- Female Sex Offenders, by Linda Halliday-Sumner
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- The Elusive Numbers on False Rape November/December 1997
- The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Sexual Assault Forthcoming
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- United States Department of Justice document, (table 26)
- Sexual Assault Statistics
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- Myriam S. Denov, Perspectives on Female Sex Offending: A Culture of Denial (Ashgate Publishing 2004) - ISBN.
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- Bureau of Justice Statistics Home page
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- South African men rape babies as 'cure' for Aids
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- Rape Stories and Statistics South Africa and Worldwide
- AMSOSA UK Rape Stats
- FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (non-uniform sources and discriminates against male rape victims)
- Probability statistics compiled by NCPA from US Department of Justice statistics October 1999
Health Canada report on male victims