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Perpetrators of Sexual Violence

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of sexual assaults are not perpetrated by strangers. The truth is:

  • Approximately 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
  • 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim (U.S.Department of Justice, 2005 National Crime Victimization Study).

It is a common misconception that rapes and sexual assaults happen by a “masked stranger hiding in the bushes” while a person is walking alone at night. Although these types of assaults do occur, statistics show that attacks by strangers are much rarer than assaults by friends, acquaintances or family members. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that:

  • 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a non-stranger
  • 28% by an intimate partner
  • 7% by a relative of the victim
  • In addition, more than 50% of all rapes and sexual assaults take place within one mile of the victim’s home or at their home, with four in ten of these occurring in the victim’s home (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics,1997).

A common response to rape and sexual assault in our society is to focus on ways for victims or potential victims to increase their personal safety (such as not walking alone at night or carrying a whistle). However, this focus has two negative consequences:

  • First, this approach does not take into consideration the most common source of rapes and assaults (that is, someone the victim already knows). This can lead to a false sense of security.
  • Second, it places the responsibility of preventing sexual violence solely on the victim.

A more helpful dialogue for sexual violence prevention would focus on holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, as well as talking with children and teens early on about personal boundaries and respect for others.

Additional Information:

RAINN – Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
National Institute of Justice: Victims and Perpetrators

Safety Exit