About Abuse

Sexual Assault / Rape

Updated: 
August 20, 2021

What is sexual assault? How common is it?

The term “sexual assault” generally means unwanted sexual contact, often committed by force, including rape. Sexual assault or rape can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation.

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 44% of women (52.2 million) and almost 25% of men (27.6 million) experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Sometimes, people are sexually assaulted or raped by strangers, but often, people are sexually assaulted by current or former intimate partners. Approximately thirty-six percent of women (43.6 million) and almost 11% of men (12.1 million) experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.1

Legal definitions for crimes related to sexual assault vary by state. We list some (not all) of the crimes related to sexual assault in each state on our Crimes page.

1The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is rape? How common is it?

Rape is a form of sexual assault. Again, legal definitions are different in every state, but generally, rape is forced sexual intercourse. Force doesn’t always have to be physical force where the perpetrator physically overpowers the victim; force could include psychological coercion (being “talked into it”), threats to cause harm to the person or a loved one if the person doesn’t submit to the sexual intercourse, or other circumstances in which the victim feels that there is no other option than to submit to the unwanted sexual activity. Rape can also include situations where the victim may be drunk, drugged, asleep, unconscious, or for any reason unable to consent. Approximately 21% of women (25.5 million) in the U.S. reported completed or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime. Almost 3% of U.S. men (2.8 million) experienced completed or attempted rape victimization in their lifetime.1

Most legal definitions of rape include vaginal, anal or oral penetration by a body part or an object. In every state, spousal rape is also a crime, so even if you are married, it is illegal for your spouse to have sexual intercourse with you without your consent.

Legal definitions for crimes related to rape vary by state. We list some (not all) of the crimes related to rape in each state on our Crimes page.

1The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is statutory rape?

Statutory rape is the crime of sex with a minor when the sex is agreed to by both parties, not forced.  The reason why it is considered rape is because the minor is considered to be too young to legally consent to have sex or sexual contact.  The age at which a person is too young to consent to have sex or sexual contact varies by state, and often varies by different crimes.  For example, if an adult has “consensual sex” with a person under the age of 12, that might be rape in the first degree, carrying a heavy sentence.  If an adult has “consensual sex” with a person who is 16 years old, then that might be rape in the third degree and carry a lighter sentence.  Also, for a 16-year-old or 17-year-old victim, the adult may have to be more than 5 or 10 years older than the victim, depending on the state.  However, these are just examples; the rules are very different for every state.  For specific information about the statutory rape laws in your state, you can send us a message on our Email Hotline.

Every state also has laws against sexual acts with minors, aside from sexual intercourse (including physical sexual contact, oral sex, exposing one’s genitals, etc.).  For specific information about the laws regarding sexual acts in your state, you can find a lawyer in your state on our Finding a Lawyer page.

WomensLaw is not just for women. We serve and support all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.