More than 12 percent of Texans have been sexually assaulted, new University of Texas at Austin social work study says

July 21, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas — About 1.9 million adult Texans have been sexually assaulted some time in their life—revealing a much larger problem than indicated by Uniform Crime Reports—according to a new study by The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work.

The research project was funded by the Office of the Texas Attorney General, Sexual Assault Prevention & Crisis Service and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault to obtain a clearer picture of the rate and prevalence of sexual assault in Texas.

It is the first statewide survey of sexual assault ever conducted in Texas.

The study of sexual assault victimization in Texas was initiated because of the wide discrepancy between sexual assault statistics reported in the Uniform Crime Report and estimates provided by the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Group, said principal investigator Noël Busch.

"For the first time, we will have an accurate look at the sexual assault rates—both reported and unreported—in Texas," said Busch, an assistant professor of social work who has studied domestic violence and sexual assault for the past 12 years.

Accurate sexual assault counts are best derived from asking a sample of citizens about their sexual experiences—both those reported and unreported to the police, Busch said.

"And since as few as one in six sexual assault cases are estimated to be reported to law enforcement, it is important to gather additional data to provide a more accurate account of the problem in Texas," she said.

A panel of experts, advocates and sexual assault survivors helped develop the survey. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,200 adult Texans. The Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University conducted
the interviews.

University social work faculty members Drs. Holly Bell, Diana DiNitto and James Neff assisted Busch in studying and compiling the research results.

In addition to asking about sexual assault experiences, the university researchers also explored other risks, including alcohol and drug problems, faced by sexual assault victims. They found that victims of sexual assault are at higher risk for alcohol and other drug use.

"Other studies also have indicated higher rates of drug and alcohol problems among survivors of sexual assault and many believe that substances are a way to deal with the trauma of sexual assault experience," Busch said.

The adult Texans interviewed were males and females age 18 and older. The sample was drawn and included representation from diverse ethnic/racial, socioeconomic and educational groups. Participants were asked detailed
questions about their unwanted sexual experience during three time periods: before the age of 14, between the ages of 14 and 17, and at age 18 and over.

Highlights of the study include:

  • About 1.9 million adult Texans (1, 479,912 female and 372,394 male) or 12.6 percent of Texans have been sexually assaulted at some time in their lifetime.
  • The proportion of sexual assault is much higher for females than for males (20 percent vs. 5 percent).
  • Sexual assault affects all racial and ethnic groups. Although Anglos (14 percent) have the highest proportion of sexual assault and Hispanics (10 percent) the lowest, the data indicate that all racial/ethnic groups are at-risk.
  • Females in all age categories are at risk for sexual victimization. Of female victims, 9 percent were assaulted before the age of 14; 7 percent between 14-17 and 10 percent at age 18 and over.
  • Males younger than age 14 and over age 18 are at higher risk for sexual assault than males
    between the ages of 14-17 years.
  • Most female victims are assaulted by a man they know. Most often this man is a relative or another man with whom they are acquainted.
  • Only 18 percent of victims report their assault to law enforcement. This includes 20 percent of females and 12 percent of males.
  • Only 13 percent of victims report they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the assault.
  • Victims (19 percent) are more likely to screen positive for a lifetime drug problem than non-victims (9
    percent). Female victims (9 percent) are more likely to screen positive for a lifetime alcohol problem than non-victims (4 percent) and a lifetime drug problem (16 percent) than non-victims (6 percent). The number of cases is too small to report this information on male victims.

"Sexual assault is a very serious social and public health problem in Texas—affecting the lives of a substantial portion of our citizens," Busch said. "Long-lasting impacts that are associated with sexual assault will require a coordinated community response from all Texans, including effective social policy priorities that support increased services for survivors and accountability for perpetrators."

Note to editors: For interviews on the study, contact Holly Bell at 512-443-9212 or Diana Dinitto at 512-471-9227.

For more information contact: Nancy Neff, School of Social Work, 512-471-6504.