Reports of forced intercourse remained high during the pandemic

Young women report higher rates of forced sexual intercourse during pandemic.


A University of Michigan study has found that the rate of forced intercourse in early adulthood increases during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a potential rise in unintended pregnancies and many other sexual, reproductive, and mental health problems.

The prevalence of forced sexual intercourse among women in the United States was already high, with more than 25% reporting forced intercourse at some point in their lifetimes. 

The new study examines time trends in forced sexual intercourse rates among the American population using data from the National Survey of Family Growth, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Transition into Adulthood Supplement, and the American Family Health Study. The study addresses shortcomings in data from the United States National Center for Health Statistics, which did not measure forced intercourse during the pandemic.

Lead author William Axinn, a research professor at the Institute for Social Research’s Survey Research Center and Population Studies Center, said, “Forced intercourse represents about half of all sexual assaults, but it’s a very severe form of sexual assault. The government of the United States monitors the rates of both women and men reporting forced intercourse because it has a lot of other health consequences. One reason we wanted to update those data is because the COVID-19 pandemic changed the potential risk of the experience of forced intercourse.”

The new study discovered that reports of forced intercourse remained high during the pandemic but increased among females aged 24-28. Forced intercourse was higher among women who did not complete college.

He said, “National data was beginning to show a decline in forced intercourse before the pandemic—not a big decline, but a decline; and then during the pandemic, rates rose, and in some specific age groups of women, the rise was a statistically significant increase.”

Axinn assumed that women in abusive relationships may have had more trouble leaving them during the pandemic. This may have contributed to the increase, even if it doesn’t address the underlying causes among specific populations.

The study does not specifically address the causes of the increase in specific populations. Still, policymakers should be aware of the rise, given the wide-ranging effects of forced sexual intercourse on several public health fronts.

Researcher said. “Rates of forced intercourse in the general U.S. population are exceptionally relevant to government policies about abortion and related reproductive health matters, especially because a common consequence of forced intercourse is unintended pregnancy.” 

Journal Reference:

  1. William G. Axinn, Brady T. West, et al. Forced intercourse in America: a pandemic Update. BMC Public Health. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-023-16102-y
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