Meta-Analysis of the Prevalence of Unacknowledged Rape

Trauma Violence Abuse. 2016 Apr;17(2):149-59. doi: 10.1177/1524838015576391. Epub 2015 Mar 17.


Many sexual violence survivors do not label their experiences as rape but instead use more benign labels, such as "bad sex" or "miscommunication." A meta-analysis was conducted to estimate the mean prevalence of unacknowledged rape and to inform our understanding of methodological factors that influence the detection of this phenomenon. Studies were identified using PsycINFO, PubMED, and PILOTS and were required to report the percentage of unacknowledged rape that had occurred since the age of 14 among female survivors. Moderator variables included mean participant age, recruitment source, rape definition, and unacknowledged rape definition. Twenty-eight studies (30 independent samples) containing 5,917 female rape survivors met the inclusion criteria. Based on a random effects model, the overall weighted mean percentage of unacknowledged rape was 60.4% (95% confidence interval [55.0%, 65.6%]). There was a large amount of heterogeneity, Q(29) = 445.11, p < .001, and inconsistency (I(2) = 93.5%) among included studies. The prevalence was significantly higher among college student participants compared to noncollege participants. The findings supported that over half of all female rape survivors do not acknowledge that they have been raped. The results suggest that screening tools should use behaviorally descriptive items about sexual contact, rather than using terms such as "rape."

Keywords: label; prevalence; rape; sexual assault; unacknowledged rape.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Rape / psychology
  • Rape / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Survivors / psychology
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Truth Disclosure*