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Sex Stories

By Kait Scalisi, MPH

Results from the 2011 National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) are in and reveal a mix of surprising and not-so-surprising patterns. More often than not, such violence starts at an early age, one’s race and gender affect their likelihood of being victims or perpetrators, and the long-term health impacts are substantial.

The 2011 results are only the second set of data since the survey was revived in 2010. Prior to that, it had not been done since the mid-90s. This revival is undoubtedly linked to increased public interest in and awareness of the true impact of such violence.

The goal of the NISVS is to describe the prevalence and demographics of different forms of intimate partner and sexual violence. In 2011, the results include nearly 13,000 responses from English- and Spanish-speaking adults throughout the US. They looks at rape, stalking, intimate partner violence (IPV), and other forms of sexual violence. The study uses the following definitions:

  • Rape: completed or attempted forced penetration or alcohol-or-drug-facilitated penetration.
  • Stalking: experiencing multiple stalking tactics or a single stalking tactic multiple times by the same perpetrator AND feeling very fearful or believing that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed as a result of a perpetrator’s stalking behaviors.
  • IPV: sexual violence, physical violence (e.g. being slapped, pushed, shoved, hit, kicked, slammed, choked or suffocated, beaten, burned, or using a weapon), stalking, and psychological aggression (e.g. name calling, insults, humiliation, and any behaviors that are intended to monitor, control, or threaten the victim) by current or former partners.
  • Other forms of sexual violence: being made to penetrate a perpetrator, sexual coercion (nonphysically pressured unwanted penetration), unwanted sexual contact (e.g., kissing or fondling), and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences (e.g., being flashed or forced to view sexually explicit media).

Data was broken down by sex, race/ethnicity, age at first victimization, type of violence committed, and time when the victimization occurred (previous 12 months versus lifetime). The results were consistent with those from the 2010 survey.These include the following:

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 59 men have been raped in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 8 men have experienced noncontact unwanted sexual violence.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men who experience IPV reported neg impact incl fear, PTSD, injury, or needing services (legal, housing, medical, advocacy, etc).

Beyond these basic statistics, the survey reveals a variety of patterns about both victims and perpetrators. These include:

  • At least 80% of female victims have a male perpetrator, regardless of the type of violence. For male victims, the gender of their perpetrator varied by the type of violence committed.
  • With the exception of non-contact sexual violence, the majority of violence was committed by someone the victim knew.
  • Drugs or alcohol use was greater than 75% for female victims.
  • Half or more of victims experienced violence for the first time before age 25. 20-40% of these victimizations happened before the victim was 18. Numbers vary based on specific type of violence.
  • Multiracial and American Indian/Alaska Native women are at the highest risk of most forms violence. The exception was IPV where mutliracial and white women had the highest risk. For men, it varied greatly by type of violence.

The NISVS carries the usual limitations seen in survey-based studies: low response rates, missing important high-risk populations who may not have either a land line or cell phone, and recall bias. In addition, individuals currently in violent relationships may have avoided responding. Lastly, the researchers did not complete additional statistics to determine whether differences by race, gender, etc are significant.

Despite these somewhat unavoidable limitations, the survey’s implications are broad. The researchers note that primary prevention—including bystander intervention training, reducing the risk of perpetration, and healthy relationship education—must start earlier while secondary prevention efforts must be expanded. As California Coalition Against Sexual Assault summarizes:

Findings from this report can be used to help demonstrate that sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking create a considerable public health burden, and can help identify priority target populations for prevention. Specifically, the data confirms the importance of efforts that focus on preventing these types of violence against young people. (Source)

The true potential implications run much deeper though.With the addition of a few questions, researchers can begin to establish how this type of violence impacts sexual health. For example, do victims delay seeking sexual or other healthcare? Are rates of sexual dysfunction higher among this group? Is someone who’s victimized as a child more likely to experience repeat victimizations? While intimate partner and sexual violence ultimately are about power, not sex, they involve the body’s sex organs and sexual response system. Harenessing the power and reach of this particular survey to explore these additional impacts is important for individuals working in sexual violence prevention and response, sex education and health promotion, and healthcare. How can those of us working in these fields encourage things like STI testing, pleasure, etc if this victimization impacts trust in authority, being touched or examined in the genital region, etc? It is time to begin making the connection between power-based personal violence and sexual health and pleasure.

Lastly, while consistency between the 2010 and 2011 results demonstrates the survey’s reliability, it also shows that not much changed. I do not say this to undermine the amazing work of violence prevention and response organizations but rather to support the idea that better and more resources need to be committed to this cause. While this topic is front-of-mind for the public, its important to harness and channel its popularity as best we can. Hopefully the 2012 data will show the beginnings of society-level shifts.

Other Sexual Health News

Ravages of Revenge Porn Spur Federal Crime Push (Women’s ENews)

Clinician Support Critical to HPV Vaccination (MedPage Today)

CDC Panel Gives Thumbs Up to Vaccine Against Nine HPV Types (Science News)

CDC News: First-of-its-Kind Model Estimates HIV Transmission at Each Stage of Care (

In contraception news, women embrace more effective birth control options (USA Today), over-the-counter birth control could reduce unintended pregnancies by 25% (Huffington Post), and the future of male birth control looks promising if not distant. (US News Health)

San Francisco Issues Alert Over Ocular Syphilis (Outbreak News Today)

Low Libido in Women: What’s Killing Your Sex Drive? (Shape)

Conference Proposals Due

The following conference proposals are due in March. Click on each name for more information.

2015 National Summit on HCV and HIV Diagnosis, Prevention and Access to Care, March 9.

NYSCHA/NECHA 2015 Combined Annual Meeting, March 10.

The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, March 15.

California Family Health Council’s Women’s Health Update, March 23.

Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence Annual Conference, March 23

Upcoming Conferences

The following conferences take place in March. Click on each name fore more information and to registers.

Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health, March 22-25.

Central College Health Association Annual Meeting, March 23-25.

Nuestras Voces (our voices) National Bilingual Sexual Assault Conference, March 26-27.

Catalyst Con East, March 27-29.

Art and Science of Health Promotion, March 30-April 3.