For the domesticated crop plant called "rape", see rapeseed.

For responding to rape as a medical emergency, see sexual assault.

Rape is a serious sexual assault that is regarded by many as one of the most serious crimes. The technical definition of rape includes any serious and destructive assault against a person or people, but in contemporary English the term is overwhelmingly associated with sexual assault.

Table of contents
1 Definition
2 Punishment
3 Effects
4 Underreporting
5 Custodial (Prison) Rape
6 Rape and Sexual Torture
7 Statutory Rape
8 Acquaintance rape
9 "Rape" among animal species
10 External links


In criminal law, the term refers to a sexual assault in which an offender forces an unconsenting victim to engage in sexual acts, primarily sexual intercourse. Some jurisdictions use terms such as "sexual assault" or "sexual battery". Some define rape as sexual assault with penetration. Rape can also refer to sexual acts with a consenting person that the law defines as too young to legally consent; this is statutory rape. Colloquially, the term "date rape" or "acquaintance rape" is used to refer to rape which occur between individuals which are dating or are acquaintances. Date rape drugs like flunitrazepam or GHB are sometimes used. "The Uniform Crime Reports use "forcible rape" to refer only to rapes against females, by males. Laws defining rape and associated issues, such as the "age of consent", vary greatly between different jurisdictions.


Rape is considered a loathsome crime in most cultures, and is sometimes severely punished by the law. Castration has been used as a punishment for habitual offenders in some countries. There is a small number of countries where rape has and still is considered to be tolerable or even honorable and encouraged. Also in some cultures, a female victim of rape can be punished as a criminal sex offender, even when it is acknowledged that sexual intercourse was forced on her. Social attitudes toward rape and appropriate punishment are a subject of serious ongoing debate in some Western cultures.

According to RAINN statistics, only about 6% of rapists 1 out of 16 will ever spend a day in jail for their crime. 15 out of 16 will walk free.


As a form of violent assault, rape can be very serious, and many sexual assaults end with the death of the victim. Rape can also result in serious physical injury, as well as in pregnancy, and the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases. The most common effects of rape on victims are psychological. In the past, survivors of rape and sexual assault were often diagnosed with Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS), then considered an psychological disorder. RTS is no longer considered a diagnosis, but rather a set of normal psychological and physiological reactions that a survivor is likely to experience. These include, but are not limited to, feelings of guilt and shame, tension, anger, eating disturbances, and sometimes depression. The reactions are very similar to those that would be experienced by a survivor of any other traumatizing experience. The psychological trauma is cited as one of the reasons that rape is usually not reported to the authorities.

In Western countries, forcible rape is considered a medical emergency. Medical and law enforcement professionals strongly recommend that a victim call for help to report this criminal act and medical emergency. Physical injuries such as gynecologic hemorrhage may have resulted. Additionally, emergency contraception and preventative treatment against sexually transmitted diseases may be required. Emergency medical technicians and doctors are trained in how to help rape victims. It may also possible to collect evidence such as DNA samples which can help in criminal prosecution of the assailant.

Because of the sexual nature of rape crimes, victims often suffer serious psychological trauma. This is especially true in societies with strong sexual customs and taboos. For example, a woman (and especially a virgin) who is raped may be deemed "damaged" by society: She may suffer isolation, may be prohibited to marry, or may even be divorced if she was married. She may also feel "dirty" or as if the crime was her fault.

The process to denounce and eventually convict an offender is often hindered by similar psychological effects. Victims frequently feel shame when describing what has happened (especially if a female victim must report the incident to a male law officer). Also, the intimate questions and medical examinations required for prosecution can make the victim uncomfortable. In societies that do not acknowledge women as full citizens, this process is even more difficult for female victims.


In 2001, only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults in the United States were reported to law enforcement officials about one in every three, according to the 1999 National Crime Victimization Survey. The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a private or personal matter and that they fear reprisal from the assailant.

There are several ideas to help alleviate the psychological harm and to encourage higher reportage of rape crimes. One is to have female police officers deal with rape cases. A second is preservation of the victim's privacy during the legal process. Another is special hotlines that may be called to receive advice and psychological first aid.

In the US, one of the most prominent hotlines for rape victims is operated by the organizaton RAINN, or The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. RAINN is the only completely toll-free, completely-confidential 24-hour hotline in America. Their phone number is 1-800-656-HOPE.

Custodial (Prison) Rape

Research carried out by Cindy Struckman-Johnson and David Struckman-Johnson of the University of South Dakota has found that 22%-25% of male prisoners in the United States have been the victim of sexual assault, 10% have been the victim of rape, and 6% have been the victim of gang rape. Women prisoners are especially vulnerable to assault by guards and other staff members, and the incidence in the United States has been denounced by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Male-on-male rape in western cultures is believed to occur primarily in coercive institutional settings, chiefly prisons and detention facilities. Rates in non-western cultures are not available.

Prisoner Rape: Law, Policy and Science

Rape and Sexual Torture

In countries where torture is tolerated or accepted as part of the normal behaviour of police or security, rape of both female and male detainees is a common occurrence.It is used often as a means to 'soften' detainees for interrogation or to intimidate them into compliance.In societies with strong social taboos on sexuality sexual torture is commonly used to destroy the credibility and influence of politically dissident individuals.

Rape under such circumstances often has even more profoundly negative psychological effects than under circumstances which sexual assaults usually happpen.

Statutory Rape

Statutory rape is the crime of sexual intercourse with someone under the age of consent. This term is primarily used in the United States. It is so named because it is considered to be rape under a specific statute rather than under the principles of criminal common law because the consent of the minor is irrelevant as the state has an interest in protecting minor children. Some states make exceptions to statutory rape laws when the perpetrator is also young, or if he marries the minor before being convicted of the crime.

Acquaintance rape

There is no legal distinction between rape by a stranger and rape which takes place between acquaintances, friends or lovers. There is more difficulty in securing conviction against a known assailant, but once established the crime is treated the same way.

Socially, the issue of acquaintance rape (also known as "date rape") is very contentious. Evidence suggests that a rape victim is far more likely to know their assailant than not. [1]

There is considerable debate as to what constitutes proper and complete consent in a sexual relationship. How explicit consent should be, how frequently it needs to be established, and what constitutes diminished capacity (usually due to drugs or alcohol) are all subjects of some disagreement. These debates take place both on moral and ethical grounds, and as a legal issue, since rape can only be convicted as a crime with intent, and the erroneous belief of consent is a common defense.

"Rape" among animal species

Some animals appear to show behavior which resembles rape in humans, in particular combining sexual intercourse with violent assault, such as observed in ducks and geese.

It is difficult to determine to what extent the idea of rape can be extended to intercourse in other animal species, as the defining attribute of rape in humans is the lack of informed consent, which is difficult to determine in other animals.

However, it is clear that sometimes an animal is sexually approached by another animal and penetrated while it is clear that it does not want it, e.g. it tries to run away. This has led to some people describing forcible penetration in animals as "natural" behavior, with the connotation that rape in humans is also in some way "natural". This is the subject of considerable controversy.


  • Gowaty, P.A. and N. Buschhaus. 1997. Functions of aggressive and forced copulations in birds: female resistance and the CODE hypothesis. American Zoologist (in press).

External links