SIGNS ACT–President Barack Obama signs the Violence Against Women Act, March 7, at the Interior Department in Washington. Participants, from left are, Diane Millich, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Colorado and domestic abuse survivor; Deborah Parker, Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State; Vice President Joe Biden; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Tysheena Rhames, a trafficking survivor and advocate; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif.; Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
by Pete Yost
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department says the rate of sexual violence against women and girls age 12 or older fell 64 percent in a decade and has remained stable for five years.
In 2010, women and girls nationwide experienced about 270,000 rapes or sexual assaults, compared with 556,000 in 1995, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey released Thursday.
Rates declined from a peak of 5 per 1,000 women in 1995 to 1.8 per 1,000 women in 2005. The figure remained unchanged from 2005 to 2010.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, has been working for decades to curb violence against women, and she said in an interview that the new study is proof that the newly reauthorized Violence Against Women Act and awareness of the problem by police is having a positive impact.
Smeal said that now, more than ever, “everybody knows that rape and sexual assault are crimes and will be treated as such.”
“We have a ways to go,” she added. “It is clear there is still too much violence and too many are fearful to report it”
On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed expanded protections for domestic violence victims into law, renewing a measure credited with curbing attacks against women a year and a half after it lapsed amid partisan bickering.
The revitalized Violence Against Women Act also marked an important win for gay rights advocates and Native Americans, who will see new protections under the law, and for Obama, whose attempts to push for a renewal failed last year after they became entangled in gender politics and the presidential election.
“This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory,” Obama said. “This victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens.”
The plateauing of rapes and sexual assault rates involving women is occurring while violent crime rates overall have been heading down.
“The rate of rape has stopped declining, while the rate of other violent crimes has continued to decline,” said Mary P. Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona.
Overall, violent crime has fallen by 65 percent since 1993, from 16.8 million to 5.8 million in 2011. The drop has been attributed by experts to a variety of factors — from better policing to a reduction in the segment of the population that is most crime prone, ages 15 to 24. Koss says some of the same factors explain the stabilizing trend in rapes and sexual assault.