Young people are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual assaults

May 30, 2013

Sexual assault has almost as much to do with age as it does with gender, according to Penn State criminologists.

Young people—both male and female—are the most likely targets of rape and other sexual assaults, said Richard Felson, professor of criminology and sociology. The most frequent victims of those assaults are 15 years old, regardless of gender, or the age of the offender, he said. Older people and women rarely commit the crime, but when they do, their most frequent victims are still 15 years old.

"People tend to look at sexual assault almost exclusively as a crime against women, but this study shows that there is a different way of looking at the crime," said Felson.

who are 15 years old are about nine times more likely than 35-year-old females to be raped, and about 4.75 times more likely to be raped than 25-year-old females, according to the researchers. A 15-year-old boy is more likely to be a victim of a sexual assault than a 40-year-old woman.

Felson said that male behavior during tends to reinforce the findings that age influences sexual assault.

The researchers, who report their findings in the online edition of Archives of Sexual Behavior, said that the sexual attractiveness of young people, as well as their vulnerability and active social lives, are important factors in placing them at high risk for sexual assaults.

Sexual attractiveness is the leading explanation for the age of sexual assault victims, said Felson, who worked with Patrick Cundiff, a doctoral student in and sociology. Male attraction to younger females can be seen in the high number of young women in modeling, prostitution and the , the researchers said. Prior studies also show that compensation for declines as women age.

Evidence on sexual assaults that occur during robberies suggests that is an important element explaining the victimization of young people.

"During a robbery, a man is much more likely to also engage in a rape if the age of the victim is between 15 and 29," Felson said.

Studying male behavior during robberies is a way of controlling for vulnerability and contact with potential offenders. Male robbers still show a strong preference for young people in their decisions to rape, even when controlling for these opportunity factors.

While criminal offenders tend to be young, men who commit sexual assault tend to be older than men who commit physical assault. According to Felson, their relatively high rate of sexual assault reflects the fact that their sexual attraction to young people is not reciprocated.

Many scholars believe that men's negative attitudes toward women are the primary motivation for sexual assault. However, the researchers said the relative similarity between the sexual assault rates of gay and straight men suggest that negative attitudes toward women are not likely a primary factor in the crime.

"If sexual assault was motivated primarily by attitudes toward women, the sexual assault rate of straight men would be higher than the rates of gay men," Felson said. "However, gay men are just as likely to commit as straight men and they are just as likely to target ."

The researchers examined the 300,000 sexual assaults reported from 2000 to 2007 in the National Incident-Based Reporting System administered by the FBI. The results also took into account that sexual assaults are often unreported, Felson said.

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User comments : 7

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xX_GT_Xx
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2013
A pretty badly skewed study. The age of consent is 16 in many states. Any sexual activity with an teen under the age of consent is, legally, rape. The mysterious cutoff age of 15 is probably just an artifact of the data.
Shelgeyr
1.8 / 5 (5) May 30, 2013
And in other news: "Duh!"

While sad, tragic, and horrible - I won't make light of the offense - does this study surprise ANYBODY?

...said that the sexual attractiveness of young people, as well as their vulnerability and active social lives, are important factors in placing them at high risk for sexual assaults


Again, no disrespect to the victims intended, but was this study's conclusions written by Captain Obvious?
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) May 31, 2013
There may be some skewing of the data because all sexual contact with a 15 year old is deemed rape whether it is consentual or not.

If they considered involuntary or forced sexual contact then the figures may show a different trend.
Shelgeyr
2.6 / 5 (5) May 31, 2013
There may be some skewing of the data because all sexual contact with a 15 year old is deemed rape whether it is consentual or not.
If they considered involuntary or forced sexual contact then the figures may show a different trend.


I'm willing to bet that even if you made that adjustment and only considered non-consensual/involuntary/forced sexual contact, their statement of "the sexual attractiveness of young people, as well as their vulnerability and active social lives, are important factors in placing them at high risk for sexual assaults" would still be so obviously true as to warrant mockery for "studying the obvious". Again, I don't mean to minimize the problem itself.
Neinsense99
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 01, 2013
It may seem obvious, but perhaps there was a need to quantify disparities, so that trends could be observed, and to identify other correlations that are not so obvious. Also, this gives more backing to policy decisions, prevention efforts, etc.
Neinsense99
1 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2013
A pretty badly skewed study. The age of consent is 16 in many states. Any sexual activity with an teen under the age of consent is, legally, rape. The mysterious cutoff age of 15 is probably just an artifact of the data.

In some jurisdictions, the age of consent or criminality may depend on the age of both. There is a difference between two 13 year olds fooling around and a 18 year old with a 13 year old.
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jun 01, 2013
@Shelgeyr
people mature at different rates so some girls are through puberty and looking like 18 year olds at 12 and some 18 year olds still look like 12 year olds. The sudden peak has more to do with the classification of rape in the jurisdiction in which the study was done.

And let's not forget the assumptions:
"also took into account that sexual assaults are often unreported"

If they are unreported then they are making estimates, based on what??? If they are unreported then they are not going to be in the 300,000 *sexual assault* cases in the FBI database.

The study is totally flawed and tells us nothing at all...

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