December 21, 2007 – (Washington, DC) – The 2006 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), just released by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), shows continued evidence of the remarkable decline in sexual violence in the U.S. over the last 14 years.
According to the 2006 NCVS survey, there were an estimated 272,350 sexual assaults in 2006 against victims age 12 and older. NCVS is the nation’s largest and most reliable measure of crime (including those crimes not reported to police).
“Sexual assault has decreased by two-thirds since 1993. This continued downward trend indicates that tremendous progress has been made in the fight against sexual violence. The dramatic cultural shift in public awareness and attitudes about rape, combined with tougher crime policies, has resulted in great strides towards our goal of eliminating sexual violence,” said Scott Berkowitz, president & founder of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. “Thanks to public education programs and media attention, Americans have come to understand that rape is a violent crime and should be treated as such. In fact, the FBI ranks it as the second-most violent crime, trailing only murder.”
It is important to note that the 2006 NCVS survey cannot be directly compared to previous NCVS annual surveys due to a new survey methodology implemented by BJS. The new methodology was developed to better count the number of violent crimes in rural areas. While the new survey appears to show a large increase in sexual assaults, up from 191,670 in 2005, BJS attributes the increase to the improved methodology, not an actual increase in sexual crimes.
Because the new methodology mainly affected data only from rural areas, comparisons to prior years can still be made for urban and suburban areas. These show that the rate of sexual violence remained stable between 2005 and 2006. Urban and suburban areas experienced a total of 166,615 sexual attacks in 2006, an increase of less than 5% over 2005, which is not considered statistically significant.
Other NCVS findings reveal more promising news: The percentage of sexual assaults that were reported to police averaged 41.6% over the last five years. This is an increase of more than 35% from the reporting rate for the in 1993-1997. This is excellent news because reporting to the police is the most effective tool that exists to prevent future rapes; every time we lock up a rapist, we're preventing him or her from committing another attack.
The 2006 NCVS survey does not include statistics for victim and offender relationships. Past data has revealed that an estimated 73% of all sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim: 38% of perpetrators were a friend or acquaintance of the victim; 28% were an intimate; and 7% were another relative.
The Department of Justice’s NCVS data is collected from about 76,000 households and 135,300 individuals age 12 or older and includes both reported and unreported crimes. Since rape is the most underreported crime, NCVS provides the most accurate data available to analyze trends in sexual violence. Because NCVS is based on direct interviews with victims, it does not include crimes against children age 11 or younger. Thus, the actual number of sexual assaults, including children, is somewhat higher than the NCVS total. Other Justice Department research has shown that about one out of every six victims is under age 12.
Despite the fact that the NCVS data show that we’ve made great progress, there is still much work to be done in the fight against sexual violence. In fact, every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted.
2006 National Crime Victimization Survey  (PDF, 287KB).
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) in partnership with 1,102 local rape crisis centers across the country. The hotline has helped more than one million people since its start in 1994. RAINN is now piloting the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, the first secure web-based crisis hotline providing live and anonymous support. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.