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Get to Know Risk Factors for Committing Sexual Violence

Categories: CDC Injury Center, Violence Prevention

Couple at homeEvery April, we observe National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For our part, the CDC Injury Center’s year-round goal is to stop sexual violence before it begins.

Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed or attempted by another person without freely given consent of the victim or against someone who is unable to consent or refuse. According to CDC research, in the United States:

  • One in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime.
  • Most victims of rape knew their perpetrators.
  • Nearly one in two women and one in five men have experienced other forms of sexual violence (such as unwanted touching, threats of sexual violence, verbal sexual harassment, etc.) at some point in their lives.

Statistics underestimate the extent of this public health problem since many victims do not tell the police, family, or friends about the violence. The numbers also do not reveal the entire story of physical, psychological, and social effects of sexual violence.

Knowing some of the factors that increase the risk that a person will commit sexual violence can help identify the opportunities for prevention.

 

What are Sexual Violence Risk Factors?

Risk factors are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes of sexual violence. A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors can contribute to the risk of becoming sexually violent, but not everyone who is identified as “at risk” does so.

Individual Risk Factors Relationship Risk Factors
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Fantasizing about coercing someone into sexual activity
  • Impulsive and antisocial tendencies
  • Preference for impersonal sex
  • Hostility towards women
  • Hyper-masculinity
  • Childhood history of sexual and physical abuse
  • Witnessed family violence as a child

 

  • Association with sexually aggressive or delinquent peers
  • Physically violent family environment with few resources
  • Strong patriarchal relationship or family environment
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment

 

Community Risk Factors Societal Risk Factors
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system
  • General tolerance of sexual violence within the community
  • Weak community sanctions against sexual violence perpetrators 
  • Poverty
  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
  • Societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness
  • Weak laws and policies related to gender equity
  • High tolerance levels of crime and other forms of violence
  • Poverty
  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
  • Societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness
  • Weak laws and policies related to gender equity
  • High tolerance levels of crime and other forms of violence

 

Getting Help

Sexual violence can have harmful, lasting consequences for victims, families, and communities. If you are or someone you know is a victim or is at risk for being sexually violent, get help by contacting:

 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Together, we can change social norms so that one day we will end sexual violence. In the comments section below, take the time to share what you are doing to prevent sexual violence.

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Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

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