Sexual assault involving the forcing of a person to submit to sexual intercourse may be committed on men, women, boys, or girls of almost any age, but statistics show 16 year-old girls to be the most frequent victims. The violation and physical injury caused by rape may lead to death, particularly with very young victims, but this is rare. It may lead to murder because of the assailant's fear of discovery, or to physical injury and mental disorder.
The legal aspect of rape differ between legal systems. Some judicial systems it is virtually not recognized as a crime. Some systems require penetration and some force. Many countries are defining rape as sexual intercourse against the will of the victim whether by force or not. Intercourse with a sleeping, drunk or drugged woman is considered rape, as is intercourse which is consensual where such consent was induced by fraud; such as impersonating her husband or deceiving the victim as to the nature or quality of the act. Because stereotypes of women, women's role in the sex act and women's behaviour during rape, women have difficulty proving an act of rape in nearly all legal systems.
Generally the law distinguishes between rape and sexual assault. Rape involves penetration, however, slight. Sexual assault is any touching of sexual or other intimate parts of the person for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification. A man does not suddenly lose control and commit a rape. His anger, hatred, inadequacy, violence or anti-social behaviour is already manifest; by the time a man is convicted for sexual assault he will already have committed several previous offences.
From the perspective of the victim, their bodies have been assaulted, their integrity, dignity and self-determination has been violated. Rape victims sometimes become pregnant or infected by venereal disease. Many experience depression, guilt, diminished interest in sex, breakup of relationships, obsessive concern for safety, and loss of trust. Another aspect of rape are the social beliefs surrounding it. The false but widely held myths about rape include: women enjoy rape; you can't rape your wife; rapists are insane; only bad women get raped; rapists have an uncontrollable sex drive; women use the charge of rape to get at innocent men; women ask for rape by the way the dress and act; and it is not rape if the woman does not defend herself.
Studies show that divorces and suicide attempts are fairly common after rape. Many times the men in a victim's life, partners, relatives and work-mates have problems coping with the attack; problems which affect the woman's own recovery. American studies have shown that a rape tends to end an existing relationship. Rape may create additional problems, especially in tribal cultures. If it is a young girl who has been raped, nobody may want or be socially able to marry her. If she is married, then her husband may leave her and the other women may refuse to talk to her.
Rape remains one of the most misunderstood and underreported crimes. The documentation on the extent to which women have suffered rape historically and in the present is only beginning. Since no more than half of all reported rapes are the work of strangers, a great deal of rape happens in family and familiar community settings. Rape of young children by fathers, male relatives and family friends is being increasingly reported to the authorities. Every investigation of rape undertaken so far is uncovering far more rape experience than expected among women who range from toddlers to old women. When comparable investigative and reporting procedures are established in all countries, it may turn out that rape is an almost universal experience for females. The incidence of rape is particularly high under war conditions. Neglecting national variations in the basis of statistical estimates, figures from Interpol indicate that in 1990 there were approximately 217,000 rapes reported from 91 countries worldwide, namely 7.2 per 100,000 population; some 146,000 (namely 67%) were claimed to have been resolved.
According to recent surveys in the USA, only 3.5 to 10% of rapes are reported. At one time the social stigma on rape victims discouraged all but the most courageous from reporting the crime; as this stigma begins to lessen, victims are beginning to use the legal system, reporting their cases and seeing them through to prosecution. The number of reported rapes has steadily risen, rising 35% to 99,146 in 1981. Although most authorities feel there is some increase in the actual number of rapes, including gang rapes and rapes of children and men, most of the rise is attributed to more women reporting the attacks on them. Statistics indicate that approximately 25% of women report that they were in some way sexually 'abused' by an adult male before they reached the age of 18. In addition, as adults, women face a one in four risk of being raped - by acquaintances as much as by strangers. If marital rape were to be included in those statistics, the percentage would be far higher.
The USA has a rape rate thirteen times higher than the UK's, nearly four times higher than Germany's and more than twenty times higher than Japan's. In the UK in 1992 4,142 rapes were reported, more than three times the number reported in 1982. Although it is estimated that only one in 20 rapes is reported in South Africa, statistics indicate that a woman is raped every 90 seconds, totalling approximately 320,000 women raped a year. In Jamaica, where rape is not a criminal offence, 1,088 cases of rape and carnal abuse were reported in 1989.