Module 2
Victims and Offenders

Adult Women

Adult Women

Women of every age are raped and sexually abused by their current or former husbands or intimate partners, but most first become victims before the age of 25. African American women are subjected to marital rape slightly more than women of white, Asian or Latin descent. Marital rape and sexual abuse are perpetrated with the same frequency regardless of economic class, or urban or rural setting.

"Any woman is a possible object of violence. What differs is not the woman, but the man. If the man is sexually abusive, he will victimize any woman with whom he lives or has lived."

— DeKeseredy, et al., Separation/Divorce Sexual Assault: The Current State of Social Scientific Knowledge (2004)

NOTE: With respect to adult, heterosexual males: While there is some literature about the sexual abuse of adult men by adult women, national data document that the vast majority of victims are women and the vast majority of perpetrators are men (Tjaden & Thoennes, Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, 1998). In researching this web resource, the authors found no cases in which an adult male alleged intimate partner sexual abuse by a female partner.

Studies of Abused Women

Data on the prevalence of co-perpetrated sexual and physical violence provided by victims themselves come from legislative history cited in judicial decisions, major national studies, formal studies of groups of battered women, and women in batterer intervention programs partner groups. Examples of each are below.

Legislative History

In a discussion of the Maryland General Assembly's reconsideration of the marital rape exemption, the Maryland Court of Appeals cited legislative testimony about the prevalence of co-perpetrated sexual and physical violence among battered women in the state. "The House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women and children, reported that, of the 987 women served by its legal clinic in the previous year, two-thirds complained of having been raped at least once during their marriage, often after separation."

Patrick T. Lane v. State of Maryland, 348 Md. 272, 290; 207 A.2d 180 (1996).

Abused Women: Houston, Midwest and Duluth Studies

Houston Study

In a study reported in the 2005 journal of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, specially-trained investigators conducted personal interviews with a diverse group of 148 abused women seeking orders of protection in Houston. The researchers used a conservative definition of sexual assault and asked only behaviorally-based questions. The five questions were:

During your relationship, did [name of abuser]

  • Make you have sexual intercourse against your will?
  • Physically force you to have sex?
  • Make you have oral sex against your will?
  • Make you have anal sex against your will?
  • Use an object on you in a sexual way?

Of the 148 battered women in this Houston study:

  • Sixty-eight percent (68%) reported sexual assault in addition to physical violence
  • Fifteen percent (15%) attributed sexually-transmitted infections to the sexual assault
  • Twenty percent (20%) experienced a rape-related pregnancy
  • There were high levels of posttraumatic stress disorder
  • None of the women mentioned sexual abuse in their protection order petitions

The researchers concluded: "Sexual assault is experienced by most physically abused women and associated with significantly higher levels of PTSD compared with women physically abused only." (McFarlane & Malecha, Intimate Partner Sexual Assault, 2005 at 99).

Midwest and Duluth Studies

Other studies of sexual assault in the domestic violence context have found overlap rates between 45-70%. For example, in a study of 159 abused women in a midwestern city, 45.9%, reported sexual assault as well as physical violence (Campbell & Soeken, Forced Sex and Intimate Partner Violence, 1999).

When the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota interviewed the female partners of the men ordered into its batterer programs, they found that 70% of these women had been sexually as well as physically abused (Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota)



Walter S. DeKeseredy, McKenzie Rogness, Separation/Divorce Sexual Assault: The Current State of Social Scientific Knowledge, Vol. 9 Aggression and Violent Behavior 675 (2004)

Domestic Abuse Intervention Program of Duluth, MN, Minnesota Victim's Statement (2003)

Judith McFarlane, RN,  DrPH, and Ann Malecha, RN, PhD, Intimate partner sexual assault against women: frequency, health, consequences, and treatment outcomesJournal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (January 2005)

Jacquelyn C. Campbell, Karen L. Soeken, Forced Sex and Intimate Partner Violence, Vol. 5 Violence Against Women 1017 (1999) 

Nonperiodical Literature

Patricia Tjaden, Nancy Thoennes, National Institute of Justice, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women (1998)


Patrick T. Lane v. State of Maryland,  348 Md. 272, 207 A.2d 180 (1996)

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