Sexual assault is a substantial public health problem in the United States and throughout the world. Almost 11-17% of women and 2-3% of men in the United States report having experienced sexual assault victimization. The results of national surveys from countries in all regions of the globe find 5-year prevalence rates of sexual assault victimization that range from 0.3% to 8.0% among women age 16 and older. Some have suggested that the rates of sexual assault victimization among individuals may be elevated compared to those in heterosexual populations, and several plausible mechanisms for such a disparity have been proposed (Austin et al., 2008, Wilson & Widom, 2010). These suggestions remain speculative, however, as estimates of sexual violence victimization among individuals range widely, and often have been derived from convenience samples and are therefore non-generalized (Austin, 2008).
Researchers and practitioners currently struggle with the range of estimates of the prevalence of sexual violence victimization among people and urgently need more specificity in order to proceed with funded initiatives. For example, the U.S. Rape Prevention and Education (RPE) funding awarded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to be used to support education, awareness, and training to prevent sexual violence. In many states, practitioners want to use RPE funds to focus on sexual assault prevention with individuals because they are perceived to be at heightened risk for victimization. Is the focus on populations supported by available data? Moreover, in some locales policy makers and program planners are considering the mounting evidence that youth are disproportionately the targets of bullying and physical violence, are at increased risk for substance use, and suicide, and therefore require stronger supportive and antiviolence programming in schools (Russell, Franz, & Driscoll, 2001). As they develop these programs, and propose policies to deter the perpetration of violence against youth, the prevalence of sexual violence against these youth would be critical to consider (Austin, 2008). The purpose of this paper is to describe the prevalence of sexual violence victimization among people in the United States, discuss the related methodological difficulties, and identify areas of future research. This review will also distinguish between different forms of sexual violence victimization by perpetrator type, and across the life span, in order to highlight needs for future prevention-oriented research.
According to this theory, individuals behave in accordance with their perceptions of expected behavior, whether the behavior is objectively positive or not. Problems may arise when individuals misperceive the norms they are trying to follow. Two types of cognitive errors may lead to these misperceptions. First, people may display pluralistic ignorance, in which they make an absolute error with regard to estimating others' behavior; risk-taking or negative behavior is often overestimated while pro-social, positive behavior is often underestimated (Miller & McFarland, 1987). This phenomenon was demonstrated in a series of studies conducted by Prentice and Miller (1993), in which college students reported significantly lower personal comfort levels with the drinking habits of other college ...