Rape and Stalking

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Chapter 7
Rape and Stalking

Historically, because women have been viewed as the possessions of their fathers and husbands, sexual abuse of a woman has been considered a violation of a man's property rights rather than a violation of a woman's human rights. However, primarily through the efforts of women's advocacy groups worldwide, rape is no longer viewed as a violation of family honor but as an abuse and violation of women. In most countries rape is now considered a crime. The United Nations' Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (December 1993, http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(Symbol)/A.RES.48.104.En?Opendocument) specifically names marital rape, sexual abuse of female children, selling women into slavery or prostitution, and other acts of sexual violence against women in its condemnation of "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."


In the report Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (January 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf), an analysis of data from the National Violence against Women Survey (NVAWS), Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes estimate that more than 302,000 women are raped each year and that 17.7 million women have been raped in their lifetime, compared with almost 93,000 men who are raped each year and 2.8 million men who have been raped in their lifetime. (See Table 8.1.) Native American and Alaskan Native women have the highest rate of having been raped in their lifetime (34.1%), followed by African-American women (18.8%), non-Hispanic white women (17.9%), and Hispanic women (11.9%). (See Table 8.2.)

Tjaden and Thoennes find that most female victims of rape had been raped by a current or former intimate partner. One out of five (20.2%) had been raped by a spouse or ex-spouse, 4.3% by a cohabitating partner or ex-partner, and 21.5% by a date or former date. Male victims tended to be raped by acquaintances. Only 4.1% of males had been raped by a spouse or ex-spouse, 3.7% by a current or former cohabitating partner, and 2.7% by a date or former date. (See Figure 8.1.) In fact, 7.7% of all women, but only 0.4% of all men, had ever been raped by a current or former intimate partner. (See Table 8.3.)

Justice System Outcomes

Tjaden and Thoennes find that the overwhelming majority of rapes are unreported to police, and women raped by intimate partners are even less likely to report rapes to the police than were women raped by noninti-mate partners. Only 18% of women raped by intimates reported the rape, compared with 20.9% of women raped by nonintimates. (See Table 8.4.) Of women who did not report to the police, 22.1% said they were too afraid of the rapist, 18.1% said they were too ashamed, 17.7% said it was a minor incident, 12.6% said the police could not do anything, and 11.9% said the police would not believe them. Almost one out of ten (8.6%) said it was because the perpetrator was a husband, family member, or friend. (See Table 8.5.)

When women did report to the police, police took a report only 79.8% of the time, and in 8.3% of the cases, the police did nothing. In 46.4% of the cases the perpetrator was arrested or detained. The perpetrator was prosecuted in only 32.1% of reported cases; only 36.4% of those prosecutions resulted in a conviction. Of those convicted rapists, 33.3% did not go to jail. (See Table 8.4.)


It was very clear to me. He raped me. He ripped off my pajamas, he beat me up. I mean, some scumbag

Women and men raped during their lifetime and/or in a selected 12-month period in 1995–96
Rape timeframePercentageNumbera
WomenbMenbWomen (100,697,000)Men (92,748,000)
aEstimates are based on women and men age 18 and older.
bSample size=8,000.
cDifference between women and men is statistically significant.
Notes: Lifetime prevalence rates for women in this exhibit are based on survey records of 6,999 women who were administered a version of the survey questionnaire that contains separate questions about attempted rape and completed rape. The remaining 1,001 women were administered versions of the questionnaire that combine questions about attempted rape and completed rape. Because it is impossible to distinguish attempted rape and completed rape from the combined questions, the corresponding 1,001 survey records were excluded when attempted rape and completed rape rates for women were calculated. The 1,001 survey records also were excluded when the total lifetime rape rate for women presented here was calculated.
Source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 1. Percentage and Number of Women and Men Who Were Raped in Lifetime and Previous 12 Months," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, NCJ 210346, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Raped in lifetimec17.63.017,722,6722,782,440
Raped in previous 12 months0.30.1302,09192,748

down the street would do that to me. So to me, it wasn't any different because I was married to him, it was rape—real clear what it was. It emotionally hurt worse. I mean you can compartmentalize it as stranger rape—you were at the wrong place at the wrong time. You can manage to get over it differently.

Women and men who were raped in their lifetime, by race/ethnicity, 1995–96
Victims' genderNon-Hispanic white (%)Hispanic white (%)African-American (%)American Indian/Alaska Native (%)Mixed race (%)Asian/Pacific Islander (%)
aDifference between Hispanic white and mixed-race women and between American Indian/Alaska Native and all other non-Asian/Pacific Islander women is statistically significant.
bEstimates were not calculated on five or fewer victims.
Notes: Rates for women in this exhibit are based on 8,000 records of survey data.
n=sample size.
Source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 8. Percentage of Women and Men Who Were Raped in Lifetime by Race/Ethnicity," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, NCJ 210346, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Men 2.8

However, here, you're at home with your husband and you don't expect that. I was under constant terror [from then on] even if he didn't do it.

—A victim of marital rape (Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, 1996)

Women and men who were raped in their lifetime, by victim-perpetrator relationship, 1995–96
Victim-perpetrator relationshipaRaped in lifetime (%)
aDifference between women and men is statistically significant.
bSample size=8,000.
Source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 14. Percentage of Women and Men Who Were Raped in Lifetime by Victim-Perpetrator Relationship," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, NCJ 210346, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Intimate partner7.70.4
Relative other than spouse3.90.6
Female rape cases by justice system outcomes and by victims' level of intimacy with rapist, 1995–96
OutcomeIntimate (%)Nonintimate (%)Total
Note: Estimates are based on the most recent rape since age 18.
n=sample size.
aEstimates are based on responses from victims whose rape was reported to the police.
bDifference between intimates and nonintimates is statistically significant.
cEstimates are based on responses from victims whose rapist was prosecuted.
dEstimates are based on responses from victims whose rapist was convicted.
eEstimates are based on responses from victims who obtained a restraining order.
Source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 21. Percentage Distribution of Female Rape Victims by Justice System Outcomes and Whether Rapist Was Intimate or Nonintimate," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, NCJ 210346, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Rape was reported to police(n=461)(n=273)(n=734)
Identity of reportera, b(n=84)(n=57)(n=141)
Police response(n=84)(n=57)(n=141)
   Took report79.873.775.9
   Arrested/detained perpetrator46.440.443.3
   Referred case to prosecutor/courtb40.524.633.3
   Referred victim to victim servicesb39.329.834.8
   Gave victim adviceb42.919.232.6
   Did nothing8.312.29.9
Perpetrator was prosecuteda(n=81)(n=54)(n=135)
Perpetrator was convictedb,c(n=33)(n=21)(n=54)
Perpetrator was sentenced to jaild(n=12)(n=13)(n=25)
Victim obtained restraining orderb(n=452)(n=257)(n=709)
Perpetrator violated restraining ordere(n=80)(n=11)(n=91)
Women's failure to report rape to the police by reason for not reporting, 1995–96
Notes: Estimates are based on the most recent rape since age 18. Total percentages exceed 100 because some victims had multiple responses.
Source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 22. Percentage Distribution of Female Victims Who Did Not Report Rape to the Police by Reason for Not Reporting," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, NCJ 210346, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Reported to someone else1.5
One-time incident, last incident2.9
Did not want perpetrator arrested2.9
Did not want police or court involved3.5
Too young to understand4.4
Handled it myself7.7
Perpetrator was husband, family member, friend8.6
Police would not believe me or would blame me11.9
Police could not do anything12.6
Minor incident; not a crime or police matter17.7
Too ashamed or embarrassed18.1
Fear of rapist22.1

Rape has little to do with the sexual relations associated with love and marriage. Rape is an act of violence by one person against another. It is an act of power that aims to hurt at the most intimate level. Rape is a violation, whether it occurs at the hands of a stranger or within the home at the hands of an abusive husband or partner.

State laws on marital rape vary in the United States. On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in all fifty states. In thirty-three states, however, there are exemptions from prosecution if, for example, the husband did not use force or if the woman is legally unable to consent because of a severe disability. There is still a tendency in the legal system to consider marital rape far less serious than either stranger or acquaintance rape.

It is vitally important to recognize the limitations of available data about marital rape and intimate partner violence in general. In Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993–99 (October 2001, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ipva99.pdf), Callie Marie Rennison cautions that marital status may relate directly to a survey respondent's willingness to reveal violence at the hands of an intimate partner or spouse. For example, a married woman may be afraid to report her husband as the offender or she may be in a state of denial—unable to admit to herself or others that her husband has victimized her.

In her landmark study Rape in Marriage (1990), Diana E. H. Russell reports on interviews with a random sample of 930 women in the San Francisco area. Of all the women who had been married, 14% had been raped by their spouses at least once. Of this number, one-third reported being raped once; one-third reported between two and twenty incidents; and one-third said they had been raped by their spouses more than twenty times.

According to Russell, the first incident of rape usually occurred in the first year of marriage. Data from the NVAWS confirms that most rapes perpetrated against women by intimate partners occur in ongoing, not terminated, relationships. Only 6.3% of rapes by intimate partners occur exclusively after the end of the relationship; 69.1% occur before the relationship has ended; and 24.7% occur both before and after a relationship has ended. (See Figure 8.2.) Although marital rape occurred more frequently in spousal relationships where emotional and physical abuse were present, it could also happen in marriages where there was little other violence.

How Is Aggression Related to Marital Rape?

Because marital rape frequently occurs in relationships plagued by other types of abusive behavior, some researchers view it as just another expression of intimate partner violence. Support for this idea comes from research documenting high rates of forced sex, ranging from 34% to 57%, reported by married women in battered women's shelters. Still, research has not conclusively demonstrated whether husbands who engage in physical and psychological violence will be more likely to use threatened or forced sex.

Amy Marshall and Amy Holtzworth-Munroe investigated the relationship between two forms of sexual aggression—coerced sex (persuading or pressuring the victim into having sex) and threatened/forced sex—and husbands' physical and psychological aggressiveness. They report their findings in "Varying Forms of Husband Sexual Aggression: Predictors and Subgroup Differences" (Journal of Family Psychology, September 2002).

Marshall and Holtzworth-Munroe interviewed 164 couples and evaluated husbands using their own selfreports and their wives' reports on three measures: the revised Conflict Tactics Scale, a questionnaire called the Sexual Experiences Survey, and the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory, a fifty-eight-item measure of psychological abuse. Marshall and Holtzworth-Munroe find that "husbands' physical and psychological aggression predicted husbands' sexual coercion, but only physical aggression predicted threatened/forced sex." Husbands who were rated as generally violent and antisocial engaged in the most threatened and forced sex. Interestingly, even the subtype of physically nonviolent men was found to have engaged in some sexual coercion in the year preceding the study.

Marshall and Holtzworth-Munroe conclude that their findings underscore the need to consider sexual aggression as a form of intimate partner abuse. They also call for research to determine the extent to which sexual coercion precedes and predicts threatened and forced sex and whether this association holds true for all relationships or only for those relationships in which there are other forms of marital violence.

Effects of Marital Rape

Contrary to the traditional belief that victims of marital rape suffer few or no consequences, research reveals that women may suffer serious long-term medical and psychological consequences from this form of abuse. In Marital Rape (March 1999, http://www.vawnet.org/DomesticViolence/Research/VAWnetDocs/AR_mrape.pdf), a review of the relevant research, Raquel Kennedy Bergen reports rape-related genital injuries, such as lacerations (tears), soreness, bruising, torn muscles, fatigue, vomiting, unintended pregnancy, and infection with sexually transmitted diseases. Victims who had been battered before, during, or after the rape suffered broken bones, black eyes, bloody noses, and knife wounds, as well as injuries sustained when they were kicked, punched, or burned.

The short-term psychological effects are similar to those experienced by other victims of sexual assault and include anxiety, shock, intense fear, suicidal thinking, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, marital rape victims reportedly suffer higher rates of anger and depression than women raped by strangers, perhaps because the violence was perpetrated by a person they had loved and trusted to not harm them. Long-term consequences include serious depression, sexual problems, and emotional pain that lasts years after the abuse. Jennifer A. Bennice et al. find in "The Relative Effects of Intimate Partner Physical and Sexual Violence on PTSD Symptomatology" (Violence and Victims, February 2003) that marital rape survivors were more likely than other battered women to suffer the debilitating effects of PTSD, even when controlling for the severity of the beatings.

Change in marital status among married women who were violently victimized by an intimate, by six-month interval between interviews
Marital status over 6 monthsWomen married at the time of the earlier interview
Experienced intimate violenceExperienced non-intimate violence
Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding. Percentages exclude women who did not complete two consecutive interviews. Among married female respondents reporting having experienced a violent victimization, those who reported that an intimate had victimized them were substantially more likely to also report a change in their marital status.
Source: Callie Marie Rennison, "Among Married Female Respondents Reporting Having Experienced a Violent Victimization, Those Who Reported That an Intimate Had Victimized Them Were Substantially More Likely to Also Report a Change in Their Marital Status," in Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993–1999, NCJ 187635, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, October 2001, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ipva99.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Still married 62 97
Divorced  8  1
Separated 30  1

As is true with other violent acts, marital rape prompts some women to leave their husbands. Bergen reports that women from selected ethnic groups, such as Hispanics, appeared less likely to characterize forced sex as rape and consequently were less likely to accuse or flee their spouses. The fact that married women do leave their abusers, however, was confirmed by an analysis of National Crime Victimization Surveys data that compared marital status of survey respondents from one survey with the next. Table 8.6 shows that 30% of the female victims of intimate partner violence who were married during the previous survey interview when they had reported being victimized had separated from their husbands, and an additional 8% had divorced their husbands.

Attitudes about Marital Rape

Historically, wives were considered the property of the husband, and therefore rape of a wife was viewed as impossible. No husband still living with his wife was prosecuted for marital rape in the United States until 1978—and at that time, marital rape was a crime in only five states, as reported by Jennifer A. Bennice and Patricia A. Resick in "Marital Rape: History, Research, and Practice" (Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, July 2003). By 1993 marital rape under some conditions was recognized in all fifty states.

However, public attitudes toward rape in marriage have been slow to change, with many people believing that marital rape is not "real rape." Kathleen C. Basile, in "Attitudes toward Wife Rape: Effects of Social Background and Victim Status" (Violence and Victims, June 2002), examines variables that might predict specific attitudes about wife rape: beliefs about the occurrence and frequency of forced sex by a husband on his wife and whether respondents would classify various scenarios as constituting rape. Basile chose to analyze data from a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,108 adults to produce more widely applicable findings.

Basile hypothesized that social background variables and victim status would predict how survey respondents felt about marital rape. Based on earlier research, she believed that males, African-Americans, and other racial minorities would express opinions more supportive of wife rape (and would be less likely to believe that wife rape occurs). Similarly, Basile expected that supportive attitudes would increase with age. She felt that victims and people with higher educational attainment would hold less supportive views of wife rape.

Survey respondents were asked whether they "think husbands ever use force, like hitting, holding down, or using a weapon, to make their wives have sex when the wife doesn't want to" to find out if they thought wife rape occurs. Respondents who answered "yes" to this question were asked how often they thought this occurs to gauge their perceptions of the frequency of wife rape. They also listened to descriptions of three scenarios of forced sex: two scenarios involved forced sex between husband and wife and the other was a woman forced to have sex with someone with whom she was previously intimate. The respondents were asked whether they considered each scenario to be an instance of rape.

Basile finds that 73% of respondents believed that wife rape occurs, 18% thought it does not occur, and 5% were unsure. Among those who thought wife rape occurs, 38% said it happens often, and an additional 40% felt it happens somewhat often. Fifteen percent felt wife rape is infrequent and 4% said it is a rare occurrence.

Basile finds support for nearly all her of hypotheses. The older the respondents, the less likely they were to believe that wife rape occurs, and white respondents were 2.5 times more likely to believe that wife rape occurs than African-Americans and other minorities. Women thought wife rape occurs more frequently than did men and, predictably, victims were more than twice as likely as nonvictims to feel that wife rape occurs.

Although Basile finds that, overall, Americans were more likely than not to recognize forced sex upon a wife by her husband as rape, the variations she discovered in attitudes toward the two marital rape scenarios prompted her to observe that many Americans still feel victims play some part in their own victimization.

Mark A. Whatley, in "The Effect of Participant Sex, Victim Dress, and Traditional Attitudes on Causal Judgments for Marital Rape Victims" (Journal of Family Violence, June 2005), also investigates attitudes toward whether marital rape victims "deserved" to be raped. Participants in the study read a fiction account of a marital rape in which the victim was dressed either somberly or seductively. Male participants in the study rated the victim more "deserving" of the attack than did female participants. The seductively dressed victim was rated more responsible for the attack by all participants. Participants who held more traditional attitudes toward marriage were more likely to hold the victim responsible than were participants with more egalitarian attitudes toward marriage.


According to a number of widely publicized studies, young women are at high risk of sexual assault by acquaintances or boyfriends. Studies find rates ranging from a low of 15% for rape to a high of 78% for unwanted sexual aggression. For example, in "Rates and Risk Factors for Sexual Violence among an Ethically Diverse Sample of Adolescents" (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, December 2004), Vaughn I. Rickert et al. find that of their sample of 689 adolescents and young adults, 30% reported having had an unwanted sexual experience in the past year, including verbal sexual coercion, rape, or attempted rape by a date or acquaintance. Other studies, such as Victoria L. Banyard et al. in "Revisiting Unwanted Sexual Experiences on Campus: A 12-Year Follow-Up" (Violence against Women, April 2005), find that the number of rapes on college campuses has remained fairly steady since the late 1980s. Researchers surmise that acquaintance rape is especially underreported because the victims believe that nothing can or will be done, feel unsure about how to define the occurrence, or are uncertain about whether the action qualified as abuse.

Date rape is considered a form of acquaintance rape (as opposed to intimate partner rape), especially if the perpetrator and victim have not known one another for long and the abuse begins early in the relationship. In "Adolescent Dating Violence and Date Rape" (Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, October 2002), a review of the current research and literature about date rape, Vaughn I. Rickert, Roger D. Vaughan, and Constance M. Wiemann observe that female teens ages sixteen to nineteen years old and young adult women ages twenty to twenty-four are not only four times as likely to be raped as women of other ages but also that teens who have experienced rape or attempted rape during adolescence are twice as likely to experience an additional assault when they are college age.

Extent of rape among college women by number of victims, number of incidents, and type of victimization incident, August 1996–February 1997
Type of victimizationVictimsIncidents
Number of victims in samplePercentage of sampleRate per 1,000 female studentsNumber of incidentsRate per 1,000 female students
*Total has been rounded (from 27.665 to 27.7).
Source: Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, "Exhibit 3. Extent of Rape, by Number of Victims, and Number of Incidents, by Type of Victimization Incident," in The Sexual Victimization of College Women, NCJ 182369, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Completed rape741.716.68619.3
Attempted rape491.111.07116.0

Rickert, Vaughan, and Wiemann also focus on high-risk subgroups of adolescents that, although less often studied, appear to experience high rates of date rape and other dating violence. They cite academically under-performing teens as at high risk, with 67% of female students and 33% of male students in a high school dropout prevention program admitting to having experienced or perpetrated dating violence, including sexual abuse and rape.

College Rape

In Sexual Victimization of College Women (December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf), Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner find a disturbingly high rate of rapes among college women. Their study was based on a national telephone survey of 4,446 randomly selected women attending colleges and universities in the fall of 1996. Respondents were asked between late February and early May 1997 if they had experienced sexual victimization "since school began in fall 1996."

Fisher, Cullen, and Turner find that in that period of almost seven months, 2.8% of the women had experienced either an attempted or completed rape. (See Table 8.7.) They suggest that the data show that nearly 5% of women college students are victimized in a given calendar year and that the percentage of attempted or completed rape victimizations of college women during their college careers approaches one in four. Fisher, Cullen, and Turner conclude that although the 2.8% figure might "seem" low, "from a policy perspective, college administrators might be disturbed to learn that for every 1,000 women attending their institutions, there may well be 35 incidents of rape in a given academic year…. For a campus with 10,000 women, this would mean the number of rapes would exceed 350."

Extent of sexual victimization among college women by number of victims, number of incidents, and type of victimization incident, August 1996–February 1997
Type of victimizationVictimsIncidents
Number of victims in samplePercentage of sampleRate per 1,000 female studentsNumber of incidentsRate per 1,000 female students
Source: Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, "Exhibit 5. Extent of Sexual Victimization," in The Sexual Victimization of College Women, NCJ 182369, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf (accessed August 4, 2006)
Completed or attempted
Completed sexual coercion741.716.610724.1
Attempted sexual coercion601.313.511425.6
Completed sexual contact with force or threat of force851.919.113029.2
Completed sexual contact without force801.818.013229.7
Attempted sexual contact with force or threat of force892.020.016637.6
Attempted sexual contact without force1333.029.929566.4
Threat of rape140.313.2429.5
Threat of contact with force or threat of force80.181.85011.3
Threat of penetration without force100.222.35011.3
Threat of contact without force150.343.47516.9

Fisher, Cullen, and Turner also asked respondents about other types of sexual victimization. They find that 1.7% of their sample had been victims of completed sexual coercion (unwanted sexual penetration with the threat of punishment or promise of reward), 1.3% had been victims of attempted sexual coercion, 1.9% had been victims of unwanted completed sexual contact with force or the threat of force, and 1.8% had been victims of completed sexual contact without physical force. Smaller percentages of women had been sexually threatened. Table 8.8 shows these additional types of sexual victimization. Figure 8.3 displays the data slightly differently, showing that 7.7% of college women surveyed had experienced sexual victimization involving physical force, 11% had experienced sexual victimization involving non-physical force, and 15.5% had experienced any victimization since the start of the academic year.

Fisher, Cullen, and Turner also find that fewer than 5% of the rapes and attempted rapes had been reported to police, and even lower percentages of other types of sexual victimization were reported. (See Table 8.9.)

These numbers demonstrating that students overwhelmingly do not report acquaintance rapes or attempted rapes confirm other researchers' findings, including those of Bonnie S. Fisher et al. in "Reporting Sexual Victimization to the Police and Others: Results from a National-Level Study of College Women" (Criminal Justice and Behavior, February 2003). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the term hidden rape has been used to describe this finding of widespread unreported and underreported sexual assault. Anecdotal reports from college and university administrators suggest that many female students who have been raped not only fail to report the offense but also drop out of school.

In "Acquaintance Rape and the College Social Scene" (Family Relations, January 1991), Sally K. Ward et al. examine men's and women's perceptions of what constitutes sexual assault. Ward et al. surveyed 518 women and 337 men at a large university. Thirty-four percent of the female respondents had experienced unwanted sexual contact, such as attempted or actual kissing, fondling, or touching; 20% had experienced unwanted attempted sexual intercourse; and 10% had unwanted intercourse, which was defined as any form of sexual penetration, including vaginal, anal, and oral. Most incidents were party related,

College women's reasons for not reporting sexual victimization to police, by type of incident, 1996
Type of incidentIncident was not reported %Reason for not reporting incident*
Did not want family to know %Did not want other people to know %Lack of proof that incident happened %Fear of being treated hostilely by police %Fear of being treated hostilely by other parts of justice system %Not clear it was a crime or that harm was intended %Did not know how to report %Police wouldn't think it was serious enough %Police wouldn't want to be bothered %Afraid of reprisal by assailant or other %Did not think it was serious enough to report %Other %
*Percentages may be greater than 100 because a respondent could give more than one response.
Source: Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, "Exhibit 12. Reasons for Not Reporting Incident to the Police, by Type of Victimization," in The Sexual Victimization of College Women, NCJ 182369, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf (accessed August 30, 2006)
Completed or attempted
Completed rape95.244.446.942.
Attempted rape95.832.432.430.98.81.539.77.433.813.2 (9)25.0 (17)76.5 (52)1.5 (1)
Completed sexual coercion100.041.943.833.38.61.958.114.324.821.931.471.41.9
Attempted sexual coercion100.021.219.515.92.72.746.96.228.318.611.586.70
Completed sexual contact with force or threat of force99.219.516.421.99.4037.57.037.530.522.781.33.1
Completed sexual contact without force98.54.711.718.04.71.643.05.529.718.812.591.40.8
Attempted sexual contact with force or threat of force97.013.821.923.18.86.337.510.031.322.523.880.02.5
Attempted sexual contact without force99.
Threat of rape90.526.334.231.613.27.939.513.234.231.626.365.82.6
Threat of contact with force or threat of force90.
Threat of penetration without force100.
Threat of contact without force98.

and most involved alcohol, with 75% of the males and over half the females reporting alcohol consumption at the time of the incident. Women reported that most of the perpetrators initiated the acts without warning. The percentage of cases involving force by men ranged from 8% for sexual contact to 21% for completed intercourse. Most of the women verbally protested, although 20% of victims said they were too frightened to protest. Victims most frequently chose to confide in a roommate or close friend, although 41% of the women told no one about the rape. Counselors were almost never told of the incidents.

The men reported a different picture of unwanted sexual behavior on campus. Only 9% reported committing either unwanted sexual contact or attempted intercourse, and 3% admitted to incidents of unwanted sexual intercourse. Ward et al. propose that the reason for the different results is that men and women read sexual cues and form sexual expectations differently. V. J. Willan and Paul Pollard, in "Likelihood of Acquaintance Rape as a Function of Males' Sexual Expectations, Disappointment, and Adherence to Rape-Conducive Attitudes" (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2003), find that men are far more likely than women to interpret a woman's behavior as sexual and misconstrue it as an invitation to sexual intimacy. They write:

In conjunction with the finding that males significantly misperceived the female's sexual intent to engage in sexual intercourse, following the initial contact, this suggests that males, in a bid to calculate the probability of obtaining sexual intercourse, overestimate the predictive value of the female's initial consent to "attend a party together." This consequently leads to greater goal expectation, which, combined with hostile beliefs about women, might result in a greater likelihood of non-consensual sexual intercourse.

Influence of Alcohol on Sexual Assault

Alcohol reduces inhibitions and, in some cases, enhances aggression, so it is not surprising that researchers examine the link between alcohol and sexual assault. In "Alcohol and Sexual Assault in a National Sample of College Women" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, June 1999), Sarah E. Ullman, George Karabatsos, and Mary P. Koss examine how drinking before an assault influenced the severity of the attack.

They administered a questionnaire to 3,187 college-age women, more than half of whom had been victims of rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual contact, or sexual coercion. They measured the participants' alcohol use, the severity of the sexual attack, the social context in which the assault occurred, and the victims' familiarity with the offenders. As expected, victims who reported getting drunk more often also reported more severe assaults ("more severe" meaning, for example, the completion of the rape but not necessarily a more aggressive, forceful, or violent attack) than those who were drunk less often. Neither the victim's family income nor how well the victim knew the offender was related to the severity of the attack, although older women experienced more severe victimization.

Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss also find that alcohol's role in predicting the severity of an attack did not vary according to how well the victim knew her attacker or whether a social situation, such as a party, was the setting for the assault—with one exception. Unplanned social situations were associated with more severe assaults when offenders were not drinking before the assault than when they were drinking. The victim's use of alcohol was related to the severity of the attack in cases where the rapist was not drinking. According to Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss, this finding suggests that intoxicated victims may be targeted by offenders, who perceive an opportunity to engage in sex without having to use coercive behaviors.

As anticipated, Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss find that victims who abused alcohol or offenders and victims who used alcohol before the attack suffered higher rates of severe assaults (completion of the rape). They also find that offender drinking was related to more aggressive offender behavior and more severe victimization, suggesting that more violent assaults occurred when assailants had been drinking. Conversely, victim drinking was related to less offender aggression and violence, possibly because force was not needed to complete the rape of intoxicated victims.

Not all researchers find that the use of alcohol by offenders increases the severity of sexual assaults. Leanne R. Brecklin and Sarah E. Ullman find in "The Role of Offender Alcohol Use in Rape Attacks: An Analysis of National Crime Victimization Survey Data" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, January 2001) that alcohol use of offenders did not affect victim physical injury or need for medical attention. They also find that alcohol use was related to less completed rape. They suggest, however, that alcohol use might be indirectly associated with injury outcomes, because offenders using alcohol were more likely to assault in more dangerous situations (assaulting at night and outdoors, and attacking strangers).

According to Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss, of the 54.2% of women who had experienced some sexual victimization, 53.4% reported that their assailants were using alcohol at the time of the incident, and 42% reported that they themselves were using alcohol. Over a third of the assaults (39.7%) occurred during dates with men that the women knew well or moderately well. Most assaults were committed without weapons, although 40% of the men used physical force. More than 90% of the victims said they attempted to resist the assault.

Overall, Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss's findings indicate that alcohol use by victims and offenders before an assault plays direct and indirect roles in the severity of assaults, but generally the woman's drinking behavior contributes less strongly to the outcome of the attack.

Sexual Coercion

Sexual coercion is generally considered any situation where one person uses verbal or physical methods to obtain sex or sexual activity without consent of the other. Lisa K. Waldner-Haugrud and Brian Magruder find in "Male and Female Sexual Victimization in Dating Relationships: Gender Differences in Coercion Techniques and Outcomes" (Violence and Victims, Fall 1995) that a "phenomenal" amount of sexual coercion was reported by 422 college students. Only 17% of the females and 27% of the males reported never experiencing any coercion. The most common coercion techniques experienced by both sexes were persistent touching and the use of alcohol and drugs. Together, these methods comprised more than half the reported incidents of coercion. Women were more likely to experience unwanted detainment, persistent touching, lies, and being held down.

In another study, Michele Poitras and Francine Lavoie questioned 644 adolescents between fifteen and nineteen years of age and published their results in "A Study of Prevalence of Sexual Coercion in Adolescent Heterosexual Dating Relationships in a Quebec Sample" (Violence and Victims, Winter 1995). The most frequently occurring unwanted sexual experiences reported by the adolescents were kissing, petting, and fondling. Verbal coercion was the most frequently used technique. Two out of five girls reported sexual contact resulting from verbal coercion, and one out of five reported intercourse resulting from verbal coercion. Approximately one out of ten females reported intercourse resulting from the use of force, alcohol, or drugs. Boys rarely reported the use of force, although 2.3% reported that they had had sex after giving their partners drugs or alcohol, and 2.9% reported intercourse as a result of verbal coercion. Poitras and Lavoie speculate that some of the differences in the reported rates of girls as the recipients of coercion and boys inflicting it may be attributed to the fact that adolescent girls often date older men, who may be more likely than boys to engage in coercive behaviors.

In "College Women's Experiences of Sexual Coercion: A Review of Cultural, Perpetrator, Victim, and Situational Variables" (Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, April 2004), Leah E. Adams-Curtis and Gordon B. Forbes complicate the view of sexual coercion in their review of research. They argue that coercive sexual behavior must be understood within prevalent sexual values on college campuses, including attitudes toward women, beliefs about sexual behavior, rape-supporting beliefs, coercion-supporting peer groups such as fraternities and athletic teams, gender concepts of both victims and perpetrators, and sexual promiscuity and its link with alcohol.

Adams-Curtis and Forbes posit that sexual coercion has its roots in traditional sex roles and expectations. Perpetrators of sexual coercion are not psychopaths, but men not particularly different from other men. Instead, Adams-Curtis and Forbes write, "We view sexual coercion as a complex, multiply determined, social behavior that has its origins in normal heterosexual interactions…. The factors influencing the progression from normal sexual negotiations to coercive sexuality are often commonplace elements of college life." They recommend that work be done to change traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity that result in the large percentages of college women being coerced into unwanted sexual activity.

Debra L. Oswald and Brenda L. Russell agree. They argue in "Perceptions of Sexual Coercion in Heterosexual Dating Relationships: The Role of Aggressor Gender and Tactics" (Journal of Sex Research, February 2006) that college students do not perceive coercive behaviors (verbal pressure, purposeful intoxication, or physical force) as "highly problematic." Instead, men who coerce women are viewed as sexually aggressive; women who coerce men are viewed as promiscuous.

Fraternities and Athletics

A national discussion about athletes on campus and rape was set in motion in 2006, when a stripper hired for a team party accused three Duke University lacrosse players of raping her in a bathroom on March 13 of that year. The university's president canceled the rest of the lacrosse team's season. The case set off racial tensions in Durham, North Carolina, as the woman accuser was a student of North Carolina Central University, a historically black college.

The relationship between athletics, fraternities, and rape is not a new dynamic. Several studies find that peer support of violence and social ties with abusive peers are predictors of abuse against women. In addition, training for violent occupations such as athletics and the military can "spill over" into personal life. Athletic training is sex-segregated, promotes hostile attitudes toward rivals, and rewards athletes for physically dominating others. Todd W. Crosset et al., in "Male Student-Athletes and Violence against Women: A Survey of Campus Judicial Affairs Offices" (Violence against Women, June 1996), report on data that they gathered from the judicial affairs offices of the ten Division I schools with the largest athletic programs. Although male student athletes made up just 3% of the student population, they accounted for 35% of the reported perpetrators.

Gordon B. Forbes et al., in "Dating Aggression, Sexual Coercion, and Aggression-Supporting Attitudes among College Men as a Function of Participation in Aggressive High School Sports" (Violence against Women, May 2006), find that participation in aggressive male sports in high school was a risk factor in perpetrating dating violence in college. In a study of 147 men, Forbes et al. find that men who had been involved in aggressive sports in high school engaged in more psychological and physical aggression and sexual coercion in their dating relationships. They were also more accepting of violence, caused their partners more physical injury, and were more hostile toward women. Forbes et al. state that the results indicate "that participation in aggressive high school sports is one of the multiple developmental pathways leading to relationship violence."

Mary Koss and Hobart H. Cleveland, in "Athletic Participation, Fraternity Membership, and Date Rape: The Question Remains—Self-Selection or Different Causal Processes?" (Violence against Women, June 1996), try to determine whether date rape is more likely to be perpetrated by athletes and fraternity members. They speculate that a fraternity-sponsored party draws acquaintances of the same social network together, whereas the fraternity controls the limited physical space with little supervision. Together, these circumstances create an environment that legitimizes the actions of the members, thereby minimizing the chance of reporting as well as the credibility of women who do report sexual misconduct. Koss and Cleveland conclude that there is low reporting of fraternity rape.

Fraternity members are frequently blamed as perpetrators of college rapes. In "Fraternity Membership, Rape Myths, and Sexual Aggression on College Campus" (Violence against Women, June 1996), Martin D. Schwartz and Carol A. Nogrady think this characterization is false. They argue that men who are most likely to rape in college are fraternity pledges and postulate that fraternity members are more likely to have a narrow conception of masculinity, espouse group secrecy, and sexually objectify women. Schwartz and Nogrady assert that alcohol is the crucial variable, and because fraternity members are often heavy drinkers, researchers mistakenly link these men and sexually aggressive behavior.

Stephen E. Humphrey and Arnold S. Kahn examine in "Fraternities, Athletic Teams, and Rape: Importance of Identification with a Risky Group" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, December 2000) the question of whether fraternity members and male athletes are more likely to perpetrate sexual assaults than other college males. They argue that one reason that previous studies have yielded conflicting results is that they treat all sports teams and fraternities as the same, but that "there is evidence that fraternities vary widely in their attitudes toward women and their behavior toward them." They conclude that some "high-risk groups" had higher levels of sexual aggression and hostility toward women, as well as more support for sexual violence than did other "low-risk groups." In other words, the members of some fraternities and athletic teams are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, whereas others are not.

Rohypnol—The "Date Rape Drug"

While alcohol abuse remains a significant problem on college campuses, other drugs, such as Rohypnol, have made resistance to attacks practically impossible. A hypnotic sedative ten times more powerful than Valium, Rohypnol (known as "Roofies," "Roches," and "Ropies") has been used to obtain nonconsensual sex from many women. Mixed in a drink, it causes memory impairment, confusion, and drowsiness. A woman may be completely unaware of a sexual assault until she wakes up the next morning. The only way to determine if a victim has been given Rohypnol is to test for the drug within two or three days of the rape, and few hospital emergency departments routinely screen for this drug. Health educators, high school guidance counselors, resident advisers at colleges, and scores of newspaper and magazine articles advise women not to accept drinks at parties or to leave drinks sitting unattended.

Although Rohypnol is legally prescribed outside of the United States for short-term treatment of severe sleep disorders, it is neither manufactured nor approved for sale in the United States. The importation of the drug was banned in March 1996, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol began seizing quantities of Rohypnol at U.S. borders. In response to reported abuse, the manufacturers reformulated the drug as green tablets that can be detected in clear liquids and are visible in the bottom of a cup. Anyone convicted of slipping a controlled substance, including Rohypnol, to an individual with intent to commit a violent act, such as rape, faces a prison term of up to twenty years and a fine as high as $2 million.

According to Monitoring the Future, an annual survey of illicit drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among the nation's youth, Rohypnol has a low prevalence rate that generally declined between 2004 and 2005. Less than 1% of eighth and tenth graders had used the drug within the past year; 1.2% of twelfth graders had used it. (See Table 8.10.) Still, given the drug's association with committing crime, even the use of the drug by one in one hundred high schoolers is cause for concern.

Two other drugs are also used as date rape pills. Gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB, also known as "liquid ecstasy") enhances the effects of alcohol, which reduces the drinker's inhibitions. It also causes a form of amnesia. Ketamine hydrochloride (also known as "Special K") is an animal tranquilizer used to impair a person's natural resistance impulses. Table 8.10 shows that annual prevalence of use of both of these drugs ranged from .5% to 1.6% for eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders in 2005. During 2002 anecdotal reports about another dangerous drug surfaced—a combination of 3,4-methylene-dioxymethamphetamine (known as "Ecstasy," "MDMA," or "crystal methamphetamine") and Viagra (a prescription drug used to treat erectile dysfunction); this combination was dubbed "Sextasy." According to media reports, the drugs are taken together by male teens because Viagra offsets impotence, a potential side effect of methamphetamine use. Public health officials are alarmed by this "off-label" use of Viagra and fear that it may contribute to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault. In 2005, 1.7% of eighth graders, 2.6% of tenth graders, and 3% of twelfth graders had used Ecstasy in the past twelve months. (See Table 8.10.)

TABLE 8.10
Trends in annual use of "date rape drugs" by grade, 1991–2005
199119921993199419951996199719981999200020012002200320042005'04–'05 change
Source: Adapted from L. D. Johnston, P. M. O'Malley, J. G. Bachman, and J. E. Schulenberg, "Table 2. Trends in Annual Prevalence of Use of Various Drugs for Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders," in Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2005, Volume 1: Secondary School Students, NIH Publication No. 06-5883, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2006, http://www.monitoringthefuture.com (accessed August 24, 2006)
Any illicit drug
8th grade11.312.915.118.521.423.622.121.020.519.519.517.716.115.215.5+0.3
10th grade21.420.424.730.033.337.538.535.035.936.437.234.832.031.129.8−1.3
12th grade29.427.131.035.839.040.242.441.442.140.941.441.039.338.838.4−0.4
MDMA (ecstasy)
8th grade2.−0.1
10th grade4.
12th grade4.−0.9
8th grade1.
10th grade1.−0.3
12th grade1. 0.9‡−0.4
8th grade1.2−0.2
10th grade1.1
12th grade1.9−0.9
8th grade1.6−0.3
10th grade2.1−0.3
12th grade2.5−0.3


Lesbians and gay men have been victims of rape and sexual abuse at rates comparable to or higher than rates in the heterosexual community. In "Comparing Violence over the Lifespan in Samples of Same-Sex and Opposite Sex Cohabitants" (Violence and Victims, 1999), Patricia Tjaden, Nancy Thoennes, and Christine J. Allison find that cohabiting lesbians were nearly twice as likely as women living with male partners to have been forcibly raped as a minor (16.5% versus 8.7%) and nearly three times as likely to report being raped as an adult (25.3% versus 10.3%). They also find that 15.4% of cohabiting gay men were raped as minors, whereas 10.8% were raped as adults. The rate of rape for heterosexual men living with female partners was insignificant.

Tjaden, Thoennes, and Allison find that cohabiting gay men usually had been raped by strangers and acquaintances, whereas cohabiting females usually had been raped by intimate partners. A vast majority of the rape victims, regardless of gender or sexual preference, were raped by men.

Gay and lesbian cohabitants were also significantly more likely to report being physically assaulted as a child by an adult caretaker. Among gay men, 70.8% reported such violence, compared with 50.3% of heterosexual cohabitants. Among women, the figures were 59.5% and 37.5%, respectively. Gay and lesbian cohabitants also experienced higher levels of physical assault in adulthood.

Tjaden, Thoennes, and Allison found that same-sex cohabiting partners reported significantly more intimate partner violence than did cohabiting heterosexuals. About 32% of gay respondents said they had been raped or physically assaulted by a spouse or cohabiting partner at some point in their life, compared with just 7.7% of heterosexual men. Among lesbian cohabitants, 39.2% reported having been physically assaulted by a spouse or cohabiting partner, compared with 20.3% of women living with a male partner. Tjaden, Thoennes, and Allison note that lesbian cohabitants were also more than twice as likely to report having been victimized by male intimate partners than by female intimate partners, with 30.4% of the lesbian cohabitants raped or physically assaulted by male intimates. Only 11.4% of that group said they were raped or physically assaulted by female intimate partners. The same group reported less violence by their female partners than did heterosexual women living with males, which leads Tjaden, Thoennes, and Allison to conclude that women are far more likely to be assaulted by male intimate partners than by female intimate partners.


Many abused women who leave their partners feel threatened and remain in physical danger of further attacks. One form of threatening behavior—stalking—is generally defined as harassment that involves repeated visual or physical proximity; nonconsensual communication; oral, written, or implied threats; or a combination of these acts that would cause a reasonable person fear. Stalking is a series of actions, usually escalating from legal but annoying acts, such as following or repeatedly phoning the victim, to violent or even fatal actions.

Not all stalking incidents involve abusive couples or intimate relationships. A stalker may fixate on an acquaintance or a stranger as the object of obsession. Celebrity stalking cases have been highly publicized, but they account for a small percentage of stalking incidents. Stalking most often involves intimates or former intimates and starts or continues after a victim leaves the relationship. It is a widespread problem. In "Stalking in the United States: Recent National Prevalence Estimates" (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, August 2006), Kathleen C. Basile et al. estimate that nearly one in twenty-two adults, or almost ten million, have been stalked in their lifetimes. Four out of five stalking victims are women.

According to the report Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (April 1998, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/169592.pdf), Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes estimate that one out of twelve American women and one out of forty-five American men had been stalked at some point in their lives. An estimated 1% of all women respondents and 0.4% of all male respondents were stalked in the twelve months before the NVAWS. These percentages represent more than one million women and 370,000 men who are stalked annually in the United States.

Stalkers: Who Are They?

No data have been collected since the 1996 NVAWS on the details of stalking incidents. However, Basile et al.'s study demonstrates that prevalence rates remain virtually unchanged. As such, the NVAWS detailed findings are valid and worth studying in the absence of more recent detailed data.

Although stalking is considered a "gender-neutral" crime, most victims are women and the main perpetrators are men. Young adults are the primary targets—52% of victims were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine. Another 22% were between ages thirty and thirty-nine when the stalking began, and 15% were forty years old or older. (See Figure 8.4.) Recent data backs up the assertion that stalking victims are primarily younger adults; Basile et al. report that 6.5% of adults ages eighteen to twenty-four reported ever having been stalked, compared with 5.7% of those ages twenty-five to thirty four, 5.5% of those ages thirty-five to forty-four, 5.2% of those ages forty-five to fifty-four, and 1.7% of those ages fifty-five and older.

As suspected, the NVAWS found that most victims knew their stalker. Only 23% of female victims and 36% of male victims were stalked by strangers. (See Figure 8.5.) Most women were stalked by intimate partners. Overall, 62% of female and 32% of male victims were stalked by current or former intimates. Figure 8.5 shows the relationship between stalkers and victims—female victims were stalked by spouses and former spouses nearly three times as often as male victims.

Most stalkers follow or spy on their victims, place unwanted phone calls, and send unwanted letters or other items. Tjaden and Thoennes note in Stalking in Americathat the pattern of harassment is similar whether the victim is male or female. Eighty-two percent of all female stalking victims and 72% of all male stalking victims reported being followed or spied on or found the stalker standing outside their home or workplace. Sixty-one percent of the females and 42% of the males reported receiving phone calls from the stalker. Twenty-nine percent of the women and 30% of the men reported property damage by the stalker, and 9% of the women and 6% of the male victims said the stalker either killed or threatened to kill their family pet.

When the Violence Occurs

Victims' advocates and counselors have long held that women are at the greatest risk of violence when they end a relationship with a batterer. This assumption is based on findings that divorced or separated women report more intimate partner violence than married women. In addition, interviews conducted with men who killed their wives reveal that the violence escalated or was precipitated by separation or threats of separation from their partners.

Many female stalking victims (43%) reported that they were stalked after ending their relationship with intimate partners, although 36% said they were stalked both before and after the breakup. Twenty-one percent of the victims said the stalking began before they terminated their relationships. (See Figure 8.6.)

According to findings released in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (July 2000, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/181867.pdf), Tjaden and Thoennes find that separated women are nearly four times more likely to report rape, physical assault, or being stalked by their spouses than women who live with their husbands. In comparison, men who live apart from their spouses are nearly three times as likely to report being victimized by their wives than men who live with their spouses. These findings support the widely held belief that there is an increased risk of partner violence for both men and women once an abusive relationship ends.

While 43% of all stalking victims said the stalking began after they ended their relationship, only 6.3% of rape victims and 4.2% of physical assault victims reported victimization after they terminated their relationship. (See Figure 8.7.) These findings suggest that most rapes and violent assaults against women by their partners occur during the relationship, but stalking is more likely to occur after the relationship is terminated.

Legal Response to Stalking

Tjaden and Thoennes note in Stalking in America that about half of the stalking victims in the NVAWS (53.1%) reported stalking to the police. In most cases the victim made the report. Police were significantly more likely to arrest or detain a suspect stalking a female victim (25.1%) than one stalking a male victim (16.7%). Other police responses included referrals to the prosecutor or court (23.3%), referral to victim services (13.8%), and advice on self-protective measures (33.2%). In 18.9% of the cases police did nothing.

Of those victims who reported their stalking to the police, Tjaden and Thoennes report that about half were satisfied with the actions taken by the police, and about the same proportion indicated they felt police interventions had improved their situations or that the police had done all they could. Victims who thought police actions were inadequate had hoped that their assailants would be jailed (42%) and that their complaints would be treated more seriously (20%). Another 16% had wanted police to do more to protect them from their assailants.

According to Tjaden and Thoennes, victims who chose not to report their stalking to the police said they felt their stalking was not a police matter (20%), they believed police would be unable to help them (17%), or they feared reprisal from their stalker (16%).

Not unexpectedly, because women were more likely to be stalked by intimate partners with a history of violence, female victims were significantly more likely than male victims to obtain protective or restraining orders. According to Stalking and Domestic Violence: The Third Annual Report to Congress under the Violence against Women Act (1998), of those who obtained protective orders, 68.7% of the women and 81.3% of the men said their stalker violated the order.

Carol E. Jordan et al. studied the disposition of stalking cases and published their results in "Stalking: An Examination of the Criminal Justice Response" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, February 2003). They examine the cases of 346 males charged with stalking from fiscal year 1999 and find that most misdemeanor and felony charges of stalking were dismissed. Only 28.5% of the charged stalkers were convicted. Jordan et al. conclude that although most stalking cases are dismissed, those cases that are not dismissed have a fair chance of resulting in conviction.

Antistalking Legislation

All states and the District of Columbia have laws making stalking a crime, but whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor varies by state. In 1996 the Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act, which is part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, made interstate stalking a felony. This federal statute addresses cases that cross state lines. In the past interstate offenses were difficult for state law enforcement agencies to take action against.

Several state legislatures have amended their anti-stalking laws after constitutional challenges or judicial interpretations of the law made it difficult to prosecute alleged stalkers. For example, in 1996 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in Long v. Texas, ruled that the 1993 Texas antistalking law was unconstitutional because it addressed conduct protected by the First Amendment. Legislators amended the statute in January 1997 to stipulate that to violate the statute, an alleged offender must knowingly engage in conduct that he or she "reasonably believes the other person will regard as threatening."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, the variation in state stalking laws has to do with the type of repeated behavior that is prohibited, and whether by definition stalking must include a threat. Laws are also based on the victim's reaction to the stalking and the stalker's intent. The Department of Justice's legal series bulletin Strengthening Antistalking Statutes (January 2002) details state legislative changes to better define prohibited conduct so that supreme courts would not find the statutes "unconstitutionally vague." For example, the Oregon legislature removed the term legitimate purpose from its statute when its supreme court determined it did not adequately describe the prohibited behavior. Similarly, the Kansas Supreme Court sought increased precision when it requested that the state's stalking statute provide measures of behaviors such as "alarm, annoy, and harassment," arguing that actions that alarm or annoy one person may not alarm or annoy another.


Cyberstalking (online harassment and threats that can escalate to frightening and even life-threatening offline violence) is a relatively recent phenomenon. Brian H. Spitzberg and Greg Hoobler's study of college students, "Cyberstalking and the Technologies of Interpersonal Terrorism" (New Media and Society, March 2002), find that almost a third responded that they had experienced some degree of computer-based harassment and pursuit. Spitzberg and Hoobler write that "it stands to reason that if there are classes of people who elect, or are driven obsessively, to pursue intimacy with others that these pursuers will seek whatever means are available that might increase their access to the objects of their pursuit, and that people's increasing exposure on and through the computer will make them more accessible as victims."

In January 2006 a federal anticyberstalking law was signed into law by President George W. Bush as part of the reauthorized Violence against Women Act. It prohibited anyone from using a telephone or telecommunications device (including a computer) "without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person."

Although the extent of the problem is difficult to measure, by 1999 cyberstalking had generated enough concern to warrant the report Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry (August 1999, http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/cyberstalking.htm) by the U.S. attorney general to then Vice President Al Gore. The attorney general's report cautions that although cyberstalking does not involve physical contact, it should not be considered less dangerous than physical stalking. The report Stalking and Domestic Violence: Report to Congress (May 2001, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojp/186157.pdf) by the Department of Justice compares the similarities and differences between offline and online stalking. Most stalking cases, offline and online, involve stalking by former intimate partners, although there are cases of stranger stalking in each. Stalking victims, offline and online, are most often women, whereas stalkers are most often men. Most stalkers are motivated by a desire to control the victim.

The report also notes major differences. Cyberstalking is actually easier for the stalker than offline stalking; the online environment lowers barriers to harassment and threats. Offline stalking, for example, requires the perpetrator to be in the same area as the victim, whereas cyberstalkers can be anywhere. In addition, the online environment makes it easy for a cyberstalker to "encourage third parties to harass or threaten a victim." For example, a stalker can impersonate a victim online and post inflammatory messages, causing others to send threatening messages back to the victim.


The attorney general's report recounts three of many serious instances of cyber-stalking that attracted attention in the media and among policy makers. The first successful prosecution under California's cyberstalking law was in Los Angeles, where a fifty-year-old man stalked a twenty-eight-year-old woman who had refused his advances. He posted her name and telephone number online along with messages saying she wanted to be raped. The Internet posts prompted men to knock on the woman's door, often during the night, in the hopes of fulfilling the fantasy her stalker had posted. In April 1999 the accused pleaded guilty to stalking and solicitation of sexual assault and was sentenced to a six-year prison term.

Another California case involved an honors graduate student at the University of San Diego who entered a guilty plea after sending, over the course of a year, hundreds of violent and menacing e-mail messages to five female university students he had never met. The third case cited in the report was prosecuted in Massachusetts, where a man repeatedly harassed coworkers via e-mail and attempted to extort sexual favors from one of them.

In July 2002 the CBS News program 48 Hours investigated a lethal case of cyberstalking that shocked the nation. In 1999 a twenty-year-old New Hampshire resident named Amy Boyer was killed by a cyberstalker she had met, but never befriended or dated, years earlier in the eighth grade. Unknown to Boyer, her stalker had apparently obsessed over her for years and had constructed a Web site that described his stalking of Boyer and his plans to kill her. He used an investigation service to discover where she worked and ambushed her as she left, shooting her and then killing himself. Boyer's death inspired her parents to speak out and champion anticyberstalking laws.

Law Enforcement and Cyberstalking

Cyberspace has become a fertile field for illegal activity. By the use of new technology and equipment which cannot be policed by traditional methods, cyberstalking has replaced traditional methods of stalking and harassment. In addition, cyberstalking has led to offline incidents of violent crime. Police and prosecutors need to be aware of the escalating numbers of these events and devise strategies to resolve these problems through the criminal justice system.

—Linda Fairstein, chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, Manhattan District Attorney's Office

Cyberstalking presents some unique law enforcement challenges. Offenders are often able to use the anonymity of online communication to avoid detection and accountability for their actions. Appropriate interventions and recourse are unclear because often the stalker and his victim have never been in physical proximity to one another. Complicating the situation, the identity of the stalker may be difficult to determine. Furthermore, in many jurisdictions law enforcement agencies are unprepared to investigate cyberstalking cases because they lack the expertise and training. The attorney general's study finds that some victims had been advised by law enforcement agents to simply "turn off their computers" or to "come back should the offender confront or threaten them offline."

Finally, some state and local law enforcement agencies are frustrated in their efforts to track down cyber-stalkers by the limits of their statutory authority. For example, the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 bars the release of cable subscriber information to law enforcement agencies without advance notice to the subscriber and a court order. Because a growing number of Internet users receive services via cable, the act inadvertently grants those wishing to remain anonymous for purposes of cyberstalking some legal protection from investigation. The attorney general's report calls for modifications to the act to include provisions to help law enforcement agents gain access to the identifying information they need while maintaining privacy safeguards for cable customers. "It may be ironic," write Spitzberg and Hoobler, "that to combat the risks of cyberstalking, law enforcement may need the very tools of electronic surveillance and intrusion that are currently the source of many citizens' fundamental fears of privacy invasion."