Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

#NotOkay: Sobering Stats on Sexual Violence

In the days after The Washington Post released audio of a United States presidential candidate boasting about behavior that most agree went far beyond “locker room talk,” millions of sexual assault survivors have been sharing their stories – 27 million in the first three days. Their message? #NotOkay.

Sexual violence robs us all – men and women, rich and poor – of our humanity and our dignity. Here are five sobering stats that bring to light, at a global level, why it really is Not Okay.

1. 35% percent of women report having experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. When we look country by country, victim rates vary widely – from a low of 1 in 10 to as many as half of all women. In other words, in some parts of the world, a woman’s odds of being a victim of sexual violence are equal to a coin toss, and even 1 in 10 is too many. Imagine 1 in 10 car rides ending in an accident. Imagine half your meals resulting in food poisoning. Sadly, the US is one of the countries with the highest rates.

2. 1 in 4 children. A recent study examined violence against children in seven low- and middle-income countries and found that in most locations, more than 25% of girls and more than 10% of boys report experiencing childhood sexual violence. Sexual violence during childhood is an insidious affront to healthy maturation, corrosive to every aspect of psychological development. It increases risk for mental and physical health problems throughout life, ranging from depression and anxiety to unwanted pregnancy, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases.

3. 1 in 33 men are victims of sexual violence. It is a common misconception that only women suffer sexual violence. The truth is men are less likely victims than women and children, but they are most certainly not immune. Men are at increased risk of sexual assault in the context of war, in the prison system, and when they are not heterosexual. And male victims of sexual violence bear an especially acute psychological burden and social isolation due to nearly universal stereotypes about masculinity.

4. Two-thirds of rapes are never reported to the police in the United States. In fact, less that 3% of perpetrators of sexual violence in this country serve even a single day in prison. The data are worse elsewhere.  In South Africa, for example, only 25% of rape victims file a report, and in many countries such data are not even collected, so we can assume that the percentage of reported acts of sexual violence is even less.

5. 7231 studies, 412 estimates, and 56 countries inform a 2014 report on sexual violence around the world. We don’t need to spend another penny to tell us that sexual violence is associated with increased mental health conditions of depression, anxiety, panic and traumatic dissociation, in addition to sleep problems and sexual dysfunction. We don’t need to spend another penny documenting this global epidemic. What we do need to recognize is that while legal recourse to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence is just and right, it is also too little, too late. From a population health perspective, we need to spend our time and money figuring out how to ensure that sexual violence no longer forms a compound expression that simply rolls off our tongues. From a global perspective, countries with the lowest rates of sexual violence may have something to teach the rest of us.

Sexual violence is about employing the body as a weapon. It is an assault on the victim, an assault on the mental health and wellbeing of us all. It’s not just locker room banter. It’s #NotOkay.

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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