Sexual violence against women: prevalence, consequences, societal factors, and prevention

Am J Prev Med. 1991 Nov-Dec;7(6):363-73.


Sexual assault of women in the United States may have a prevalence rate of 25% or more. Moreover, the majority of survivors of sexual assault know their assailants. Consequences of assault may be severe and long-term, including fear and anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, difficulties with daily functioning and interpersonal relationships, sexual dysfunction, and a whole range of somatic complaints. Recent evidence implicates societal factors, such as acceptance of rape myths, rigid sex role stereotyping beliefs, and acceptance of violence as a legitimate means for obtaining compliance in interpersonal relationships, in the etiology of sexual violence against women. I present a model for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of rape. Primary prevention represents a program of anticipatory guidance in a developmental framework. Secondary prevention entails identification of and early intervention in dysfunctional families. Tertiary prevention consists of the appropriate treatment of the survivor of sexual assault to prevent or minimize subsequent physical and psychological problems. This preventive framework may be incorporated into the practice of clinical preventive medicine and primary care.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Legislation as Topic
  • Marriage
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Primary Health Care
  • Primary Prevention*
  • Rape / prevention & control*
  • Rape / psychology
  • Rape / statistics & numerical data
  • Stereotyping
  • United States
  • Violence