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Survey Shows Most Rape Victims Under 18

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Rape is a "tragedy of youth,'' with girls younger than 18 years old accounting for more than 60 percent of all victims, according to a federally funded survey released last week.

The survey by the National Victim Center, a nonprofit victims'-rights organization, indicates that 11- to 17-year-olds make up the largest proportion of rape victims in the United States, 32 percent; another 29 percent are younger than 11. Only 6 percent of rapes occur among women older than 29, it suggests.

"The fact that so many young people were victims of violent, forcible rapes was a surprise,'' said Dean G. Kilpatrick, the director of the Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, who directed the research.

The results of "Rape in America: A Report to the Nation,'' which was financed by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, are based on a telephone survey of more than 4,000 women, many of whom were contacted one year after the initial survey in 1989 and again two years later. Thirteen percent of the respondents said they had been raped at least once.

The study estimates that more than 683,000 forcible rapes occur each year. That number is more than five times larger than totals released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department, which both put the annual figure in the range of 100,000 to 130,000.

According to the survey, 88 percent of all rape victims knew their attacker. One-third of the victims contemplated suicide, and 13 percent actually tried to kill themselves; 31 percent developed rape-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report also contains a number of recommendations, including that rape-education and -awareness efforts begin in elementary school, with a particular focus on pre-adolescent boys and girls.

"We need to put our money where the problem is,'' Mr. Kilpatrick said. "Clearly, if we wait until people get into high school or college, a lot of rapes will already have occurred. We need to get people at earlier ages.''

The report argues that educational efforts must focus on the importance of reporting rapes to teachers, other trusted adults, or crisis-counseling agencies.

"Our nation,'' it says, "must also reinforce three strong messages: that rape is a violent crime; that rape victims are not to blame for the terrible crime committed against them; and that support and services are available to all victims, regardless of their age.''

Anne K. Seymour, the National Victim Center's director of communications and the study's co-author, said the release of the report was only the first step for her group. "Now we need to get people to take action,'' she said.

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