About a third of adult Texans — 6.3 million — have been the victims of sexual assault, according to a new study by the University of Texas.
Researchers surveyed a sample group of about 1,200 adults in the state between November and February and found that roughly 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men have been sexually assaulted. The number of sex assault victims has tripled since 2003 in part because researchers expanded the definition of sexual assault to reflect what is outlined in the Texas Penal Code.
Researchers counted not only victims of rape but had been forced into other sexual activities, such as unwanted kissing, being photographed nude without their consent, or unwanted sexual contact when inebriated and unable to give consent
It’s important that people understand the impact that sexual violence has on the health and well-being of victims, said social work professor Noël Busch-Armendariz, who was the study’s lead investigator. But treating the symptoms isn’t enough, she said: “We actually have to understand what compels people to sexual assault.”
“Once we understand that circumstance, those environments and that equation, we will do better by society. We will do better by Texans,” Busch-Armendariz said.
Researchers randomly made calls to 9,070 numbers and whittled the pool of respondents down to 1,203. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
According to responses from the sample group, a majority of sexual assault offenders were men whom the victim knew. Sixty-five percent of all victims had been sexually assaulted more than once, and almost all victims — 91 percent — didn’t report the incident to police. “That is an abysmal rate. We really need to really think hard about why they’re not reporting,” Busch-Armendariz said.
Some of the most common reasons victims say they didn’t report the incident to authorities were that they didn’t consider the act a sex assault, they were scared or because they believed they were too young to go the authorities.
Researchers estimate that 413,000 Texans were sexually assaulted in the past year. According to the 2014 Uniform Crime Report that the Texas Department of Public Safety collects from local law enforcement agencies, only 18,756 sex assaults were reported.
Victims suffered from higher rates of sleeping difficulties and use of anti-depressants than non-victims. Ten percent of victims became pregnant after they were sexually assaulted.
Researchers estimate that sexual assaults cost the state $8 billion annually in lost wages, services to victims, law enforcement and legal expenses and other expenditures.
Busch-Armendariz said that to understand and combat sexual violence, the state should report the prevalence of the crime every five years to the Department of State Health Services and improve services for victims so that they are more likely to recognize and report sexual assaults.
“It is not an uncommon crime that 6.3 million adult Texans have experienced some form of sexual assault,” ” said Busch-Armendariz. “Given that reality, we need to stand ready to address it in a way that calls for action, prevention and intervention that works.”