One in five women in the USA – nearly 20 million people – has suffered rape at some point in their life, Victim Support Scotland's International Conference in Edinburgh heard today (October 7).
The shocking toll was revealed in a keynote address at VSS's To Report or Not To Report conference at Edinburgh University's John McIntyre Conference Centre by Professor Dean Kilpatrick, of the Medical University of Carolina, National Crime Victims Research Center, who believes it likely that the figures in Scotland and throughout Europe could be similar.
Speaking after his address Professor Kilpatrick said: “I would not be surprised if the figure was similar for Scotland and Europe as a whole. In a lot of Western cultures we get very similar data and there have been other US surveys that brought very comparable results.”
The conference audience, which included Frank Mulholland, QC, Solicitor-General for Scotland, heard that the high incidence of rape in the US was measured in the National Women's Study – Replication (NWS-R) report, carried out by Professor Kilpatrick and colleagues and based on random interviews with households across the country.
The results showed that 18% of women had been victims of at least one rape during their lifetime – a total of 20 million. Professor Kilpatrick said: “For a country like the UK, with a population of around 60 million, that would be like looking at every third person in the street and knowing they had been raped.”
The survey also showed that 0.9% of women had suffered a rape in the previous year – a total of 1.1 million women.
And the levels are rising, Professor Kilpatrick warned.
One of the purposes of the NWS-R survey was to measure changes over a 15-year period and the results showed that forcible rape at some point in a woman's lifetime had risen from 12.6% of women in 1999 to 16.1% by 2006, while the annual incidence was also up from 0.7% to 0.9.
“It has been claimed that rape is going down in the US,” Professor Kilpatrick told his audience. “We don't see that, we see a clear upward trend and this has clear implications for policies on rape.”
The survey results showed that most perpetrators are not strangers, but people the victim knows well. In the category of drug and alcohol-related attacks mostly friends, and in the category of forcible rape, the majority of attackers are relatives.
“These trends have worrying implications,” the professor said. “Stranger rape is the easiest to prosecute, but these are the minority of cases. So educating the public, and therefore juries, is imperative to improve conviction results.
“And they also show that alcohol is the biggest problem in drug and alcohol-related attacks, much bigger than drugs alone.”
Professor Kilpatrick went on to say that levels of reporting rape had not risen significantly over the 15-year period and was a problem that had to be addressed.
He said: “The prevalence of rape is high in the US — 25% higher than in the 1990s. But reporting is very low and this is a serious problem because it denies justice to victims and allows perpetrators to rape again, and again, and again.
“We need to do everything to encourage women to report these crimes, by providing anonymous reporting programmes, by addressing victims' concerns over confidentiality and by educating ourselves on the true nature of rape and the importance of reporting.”