The sexual assault crisis affecting big urban centers in America

By Mia Shpiner

Intimate partner violence, or IPV, is defined as the assault, abuse, or rape between dating or married people. Shockingly, some statistics see that 10-14 per cent of married women experience spousal rape.

According to research from the Journal of Women’s Health, “Women in small rural and isolated areas reported the highest prevalence of IPV (22.5% and 17.9%, respectively) compared to 15.5% of women based in cities”.

Rural areas are characterized by low population density and geographic isolation. Let’s look below at three of the most urban and rural states in the United States.

As highlighted in the image, 47.5% of women in West Virginia will or have experienced marital rape by their spouse, while this rate is at 31.7 per cent in New York.

Considering the severity of these disparities, the causes and correlations cannot be pinpointed to one phenomenon. Rather, multiple economic and social factors intertwine to tell this story.

How American infrastructure fails women

Higher rates of sexual violence can be attributed to the lack of resources in nonmetropolitan areas.

“Over 25% of women in small rural and isolated areas lived >40 miles from the closest [sexual assault] program, compared with <1% of women living in urban areas” (Bennice).

This figure not only gives reason for larger numbers of sexual perpetrators but tells a story for all the cases gone undocumented. Without call lines, shelters, and safe communities, women in non-urbanized areas are at risk, unsafe, and stranded.

As shown in this above map, southern, midwest, and northeast rural states contain on average only 1 dedicated program for sexual assault victims.

Comparably, California and New York, which figure among the two of the most urbanized states in the country, provide more than 20 of these resources.

Though the sexual assault data reveals a disproportionate number of victims in rural America, state funding for programs in these areas is not a priority.

For example, in regions of geographic and social isolation in vast territories such as localities in Maine – whether because of the natural or manmade infrastructure – women not only. experience geographic isolation from support groups, lower cases of reporting can emerge from this lack of perspective in reporting these incidents.

The Alcohol Factor

Another significant factor that aggravates the same context is alcohol abuse.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 50 per cent of sexual assault cases involve alcohol consumption by the victim, perpetrator, or both parties.

It is estimated that perpetrators under the influence of alcohol range between 34-74 per cent of the cases.

The correlation between alcohol consumption also sets urban vs rural disparities in a very visible manner. A study that measured the alcohol consumption per capita in each state shows that the most rural states in America stand at the top in the list of 10 states per alcohol consumption.

For example, New Hampshire, on average, consumes 4.74 gallons of ethanol per person, while New York consumes 2.22.

Though Southern states have the lowest rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD), rural states in all other American regions are reported to have the highest rates of AUD.

While research cannot deduce a causation relationship between alcohol use and sexual assault, it is known that certain psychological phenomena occur during heavy drinkings, such as an aphrodisiac mood, a loss of inhibition, and violence.

The Poverty Factor

Studies yet show that the high rates of alcohol use disorder in rural states can be correlated to higher poverty rates in non-metro areas.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service,

“There are 353 persistently poor counties in the United States… The large majority (85.3%) of the persistent-poverty counties are non-metro locations, accounting for 15.2% of all nonmetro counties.”

When studying neighborhood poverty and the effects of unit decrease (unit being income), research shows that one unit increase raises the likelihood of binge drinking by 86 per cent (Cerda). Poverty is understood as being strongly linked to depression, feelings of isolation, and anger. In combination with heavy alcohol use, it is a probable assumption to correlate this phenomenon with increased sexual violence.

Higher rates of poverty, higher rates of alcohol use disorder, and the lowest availability of resource programs are all present in the rural states of America.

Other Factors

Other matters play a role in sexual assault prevalence that went untouched in this story, such as education or lack thereof when juxtaposed to imbalanced gender relations.

High rates of sexual assault and IPV become a sociological phenomenon that has grown to an extent in which large, political action must exist to bring improvement.

Though sexual assault can be never eradicated, there are tangible steps rural societies and the national government must take to protect women and their children.

Immediately, counties must provide resource programs within public transportation boundaries. Besides the tragic disparity of cases, it can be even worse due to the undocumented number of occurrences and the lack of resources that must be brought to justice with large-scale funding and culture change.

More resources to understand this crisis:

Abbey, A. (n.d.). Alcohol and sexual assault. Encyclopedia of Human Relationships.

Cerdá, M., Diez-Roux, A. V., Tchetgen Tchetgen, E., Gordon-Larsen, P., & Kiefe, C. (2010). The relationship between neighborhood poverty and alcohol use: Estimation by Marginal Structural Models. Epidemiology, 21(4), 482–489.

Directory of organizations. National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Jeffords, C. R., & Dull, R. T. (1982). Demographic variations in attitudes towards marital rape immunity. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 44(3), 755.

NCADV: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Nation’s Leading Grassroots Voice on Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

Rural Poverty & Well-being. USDA ERS – Rural Poverty & Well-Being. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2022, from

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