Rape is forced, unwanted sexual intercourse. Rape can happen to males or females, children or adults or elders, healthy people or people with disabilities. Rape is a crime even if the rapist is an acquaintance, a friend, or a member of the family.


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Acquaintance rape

Child sexual abuse

Date rape

Rape trauma syndrome

Sexual assault

What Is Rape?

Rape is forced, unwanted sexual intercourse involving the genitals or any other part of the body. Rape also is called sexual assault. It is an act of violence; it is not a form of consensual sex * , love, or intimacy. Being a rapist does not always mean that a person is mentally ill. Committing a rape is a criminal act. Rape and sexual assault may be committed against females or males; children or elders; wives, dates, or intimate partners. Many rapes are never reported to the police. Rape may be committed by a stranger, but often it is committed by someone known to the person who has been raped. Sometimes physical force is used during a rape. Other times there may be intimidation. Sometimes rape occurs when the victim is drugged, drunk, or otherwise unable to respond.

* consensual sex is sexual activity in which both people freely agree to participate.

* semen is the fluid that carries the sperm produce d in the testicles, the male reproductive organs. Sperm are tiny, tadpole-like cells that ca n unite with a female's egg to result in pregnancy.

Who? Whom? How Often?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the following statistics about rape and sexual assault:

  • More than 80 percent of people who have been raped do not report the assault to the police.
  • Among people who do report the assault to the police, 40 percent are younger than age 18, and 15 percent are younger than age 12.
  • Approximately 50 percent of rapes against women are committed by friends or acquaintances, not by strangers.
  • Approximately 25 percent of rapes against women are committed by intimate partners, dates, or husbands.
  • More than 25 percent of women in college experience sexual violence that meets the legal definition for rape or attempted rape.
  • More than 7 percent of men in college report aggressive sexual behavior that meets the legal definition for rape or attempted rape.
  • Women who have been raped experience physical injuries in approximately 40 percent of cases, need to be hospitalized overnight in 3 percent of cases, contract a sexually transmitted disease in 4 percent of cases, and become pregnant in 4 percent of cases.
  • Death occurs in approximately 0.1 percent of all rape cases.

What Is the Treatment for Rape?

People who have been raped may want to keep the assault secret. They may be upset, confused, and even embarrassed, perhaps mistakenly thinking that they were responsible for the attack. But it is very important that they go to a clinic or hospital emergency room immediately, before showering or changing clothing. Immediate medical examination is necessary to treat injuries, to allow for further medical evaluation, and to gather evidence of the crime. "Rape kit" evidence may include body fluids like saliva or semen * from the rapist or samples of the rapist's hair or clothing. Continuing medical care is necessary to prevent or treat sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. Emotional care also is important. Rape crisis workers who understand the trauma that rape can cause often are on hand to provide help, support, and referrals for counseling to aid in emotional recovery from the effects of the rape.

What Is Rape Trauma Syndrome?

Rape trauma syndrome is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to physical distress, people who have been raped may experience psychological symptoms that can include:

  • emotional numbness
  • alert watchfulness or jumpiness
  • sleep disturbances
  • nightmares
  • disturbing memories (flashbacks) of the sexual assault
  • avoidance of healthy sexual activity
  • increased levels of alcohol or drug use
  • feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness
  • depression
  • school failure
  • suicidal feelings

People who are raped by acquaintances, dates, or family members may experience symptoms that are different from those of people who are raped by strangers. In such cases, in addition to the actual trauma of rape, there is the added trauma of loss of trust. Rape by a stranger may involve a weapon or other types of violence. When people who are raped also fear for their lives, it increases the likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some symptoms of rape trauma may ease with the passage of time, but often the help of a therapist or support group is necessary for more complete emotional healing to take place.

People who have been raped need immediate attention at a clinic or hospital for medical treatment and for the collection of evidence of the crime. Rape kit evidence may include saliva or semen, which can be used to determine the rapist's DNA "fingerprint." Visuals Unlimited, Inc.
People who have been raped need immediate attention at a clinic or hospital for medical treatment and for the collection of evidence of the crime. Rape kit evidence may include saliva or semen, which can be used to determine the rapist's DNA "fingerprint."
Visuals Unlimited, Inc.

Prevention of Rape

Important steps toward rape prevention include avoiding alcohol and drugs that can lead to irresponsible or dangerous behavior, always discussing sexual activities with a partner and obtaining agreement about what will happen. It is also important to have friends or family members know details about a date, for example, where the date will take place and the date's name. Speak up or stop a situation whenever abusive sexual behaviors are witnessed. Programs to prevent rape may involve male mentors counseling young men.



Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Puffin Books, 2001.

Draper, Sharon Mills. Darkness Before Dawn. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.


Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 635-B Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003. This nonprofit organization operates the only national hotline for people who have been raped. It offers free, confidential counseling 24 hours a day.
Telephone 800-656-HOPE

National Coalition against Sexual Assault, 125 N. Enola Drive, Enola, PA 17025. This organization works to end sexual violence through education and public policy.
Telephone 717-728-9764

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Mailstop K65, 4770 Buford Highway NE, Atlanta, GA 30341-3724. This division of the U. S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention posts fact sheets at its website covering rape, dating violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence against people with disabilities.
Telephone 770-488-1506

White Ribbon Campaign, 365 Bloor Street East, Suite 203, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4W 3L4. This nonprofit organization focuses on men working to end men's violence against women. It publishes a newsletter, fact sheets, and a brochure called It's Time for Guys to Put an End to This.
Telephone 416-920-6684 or 800-328-2228

KidsHealth, sponsored by the Nemours Foundation and the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, posts articles for teens on rape and related topics.

Date Rape Drugs

Several medications that are useful when prescribed as sedatives * , muscle relaxants, or sleeping aids also have been used to "force" people to have sex. These drugs have become known as date rape drugs:

  • flunitrazepam (sold under the brand name Rohypnol), nicknamed "roofies"
  • clonazepam (sold under the brand name Klonopin), also sometimes referred to as "roofies"
  • gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), nicknamed "liquid Ecstasy."

When used illegally as club drugs or date rape drugs, these medications can cause euphoria * and loss of consciousness. Sometimes these medications also can cause seizures * or coma. Date rape drugs may be added to drinks as a way of secretly giving them to someone. Caution about accepting drinks from others is one important part of rape prevention.

* sedatives are drugs that have a calming effect.

* euphoria is an exaggerated feeling of well-being.

* seizures occur when the electrical patterns of the brain are interrupted by powerful, rapid bursts of electrical energy, which may cause a person to fall down, make jerky movements, or stare blankly into space.

See also
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Substance Abuse

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