Despite the fact that rape is a significant problem in our society, it has been difficult to obtain accurate statistics on its frequency. One reason is that many individuals do not report this crime. A recent study suggests that ethnic minority women may be especially
likely not to disclose or report sexual assault (Ullman et al., 2008). Estimates of the percentage of rapes that women victims report to police or other public agencies range from 11.9% (Hanson et al., 1999) to 28% (U. S. Department of Justice, 2001). This low percentage of reporting has led some writers to suggest that rape is the most underre­ported crime in the United States (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994; Romeo, 2004).

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 84,767 females nationwide reported being raped in 2010 (Goode, 2011). Based on the estimates of underreport­ing of rape we just stated, it is likely that the actual number of rapes occurring in 2010 ranged from about 303,000 to 712,000.

The FBI statistics on reported rape in 2010 noted in the previous paragraph include only rape perpetrated against a female forcibly and against her will. This definition of rape, unchanged since 1929, excludes victims of forced anal or oral sex, rape with an object, statutory rape, and male rape. In October 2011 the Uniform Crime Report Sub­committee of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services voted to expand its defi­nition of rape. The new definition of rape defines the crime as penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim (WeNews Staff, 2011). This definition dramatically broadens the old, outdated definition of "forcible rape" and allows inclusion of many forms of rape victimization, including rape of males.

An exhaustive government survey of a nationally representative sample of 16,507 adults, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, released in Decem­ber 2011, found that almost one in five American women has been raped in her lifetime (Rabin, 2011). In this survey rape was defined as completed forced penetration, forced penetration facilitated by drugs or alcohol, or attempted forced penetration. While this definition expanded the old FBI definition, it excluded men and maintained an empha­sis on rape as a "forced" act of sexual victimization. We can expect that FBI statistics on the annual number of rapes, determined under the new definition, will be revised sharply upward in future years. Research focused on college populations indicates that one in every four or five college women is victimized by attempted or completed rape (Crawford et al., 2008; Paulson, 2011; van der Voo & Smith, 2010).

Assaulted college women are often victimized again by a lack of institutional sup­port and preparedness to handle allegations of sexual assault (van der Voo & Smith,

2010) . Student victims of rape frequently describe a pervasive tendency to either sub­scribe to a "blame the victim" attitude or to characterize the assault as a ‘misunderstand­ing." An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that "students deemed responsible for sexual assault often face little or no consequences while the victims are frequently left in turmoil" (van der Voo & Smith, 2010, p. 1). Based on the widespread failure of colleges and universities to deal responsibly with the sexual assault of students, it is reasonable to suspect that the actual incidence of sexual victimization of college women is appreciably greater than the reported statistics indicate.

Victims of rape, whether students or nonstudents, do not report the crime for other reasons, including self-blame ("I shouldn’t have had so much to drink"), fear of being blamed by others, concern for the rapist, fear of retaliation, and an attempt to block their recall of a traumatic experience (Miller et al., 2011; Romeo, 2004; Wolitzky-Taylor et al.,

2011) . A person who has been raped may feel vulnerable and frightened, and reliving the experience by telling about it can be understandably difficult. Also, mistrust of the police or legal system, fear of reprisal by the offender or his family, and concern about unwanted publicity may deter individuals from reporting rapes. And, as we discuss later in this chapter, a large proportion of rapes are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. Under these circumstances a woman’s preconception of a "real" rape as a violent attack by a stranger may not match her experience of an acquaintance rape, and therefore she may not consider it reportable criminal behavior.

In the following pages, we look at a number of aspects of the act of rape, including the cultural context in which it occurs, the characteristics of perpetrators, and the char­acteristics of victims.