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Does sexual assault occur more between strangers?

Lisa Moment
Lisa Moment on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Nursing Specialist

Although media would have you believe that sexual assault more commonly occurs between strangers, it is actually not as common as you would think. It is more common for the victim to know his/her perpetrator. Common terms for this include acquaintance rape, date rape, and marital rape.

Dr. Bonnie Lynn Wright, PhD
Geriatrics Nursing Specialist

A sexual assailant is at least three times more likely to be known to you than a stranger. This makes sense when you think about it. Sexual assault is unwelcomed sexual activity including touching, etc., not just the big things like being beaten and raped in a park. You are more likely to be with someone you know in a circumstance where this unwelcomed activity can happen.

Sexual assault happens to men and women; girls and boys and is highly underreported. When physical assault happens at the same time, it is less embarrassing to focus on the physical rather than the sexual assault. This has been reported to be the case particularly with assault on boys and young men. 

Given this 3:1 ratio of 'familiars' to strangers, parents may need to spend more time teaching their children to protect themselves in general rather than teaching ' stranger danger'.

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

No, sexual assault does not occur more between strangers although it is a commonly held belief. In fact, the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that Strangers committed only 18% of the assaults that were reported in this survey.

Seventy-six percent of sexually assaulted women were attacked by a current or former husband, cohabitating partner, friend, or date.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.