Study objective: Studies suggest significant rates of female sexual assault (SA); the majority of SAs remain unreported, and few victims receive medical care. The purpose of this study was to determine lifetime prevalence rates of SA in an emergency department population and to assess reporting patterns to police, physicians, and social service agencies.
Methods: A verbally administered survey was given to all female patients during 4-hour randomized periods in an urban Level I trauma center. All English-speaking, noncritically ill women who presented during the study period were eligible.
Results: Four hundred forty-two women were eligible; 360 (81%) women agreed to participate. The lifetime prevalence rate of SA was 39% (n=139). Ninety-seven women (70%) were older than 15 years at the time of SA. Of these 97 SAs occurring in adulthood, 49 (52%) reported assault by an acquaintance, family member, or friend; 28 (30%) by a stranger; and 17 (18%) by a partner. Forty-five (46%) women reported the crime to the police, 42 (43%) sought medical care, and 23 (25%) contacted a social service agency. Reporting patterns for victims assaulted by a stranger versus those assaulted by a partner were: reported to police 79% (95% confidence interval [CI] 62 to 95) versus 18% (95% CI 0 to 38); P <.001), received medical care 70% (95% CI 46 to 95) versus 29% (95% CI 11 to 48; P<.01), contacted a social service agency 30% (95% CI 5 to 47) versus 24% (95% CI 1 to 46; P=.63).
Conclusion: Lifetime female SA rates in ED populations are significant. Fewer than half of SA victims report the assault to the police or seek medical care. Women assaulted by a partner are significantly less likely to report the SA to police or seek medical care.