As we wrap up 2021 Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we offer an overview of the state of sexual violence in Chicago and beyond. We have limited data from Chicago specifically, so we’re presenting what we found, as well as including state-level and national data.

These numbers should be unsettling. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to keep raising awareness about them.

Many of the national surveys and reports are a decade old now, and we need new data — especially data that is more inclusive in its identity questions. But they help to paint a picture of the magnitude of the issues.

One piece of hope is that there are more organizations speaking out and supporting survivors, especially those in more vulnerable communities. (We’ve included a list at the bottom of this article).

COVID-19 Increases Barriers to Resources for Survivors

The pandemic has increased existing inequities, such as access to health resources, housing and financial securities.  Women, people of color, LGBTIA+, and disabled people are more likely to be impacted negatively by the pandemic. They are also communities that are more vulnerable to sexual assault.

According to Resilience, an Illinois nonprofit that supports survivors of sexual assault, “Many survivors are facing increased barriers to accessing safety and healing after experiencing a sexual assault, including new fears related to seeking emergency treatment at a hospital emergency room and possibly even feelings of guilt that their trauma is not deserving of the same level of attention as COVID-19 related needs.”

Last year, the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice surveyed domestic and sexual violence service providers about the impact of the shut-in on survivors. 82% of service providers believed that survivors were risking their safety by sheltering in place with an abusive partner, household member, or caregiver. According to their report:

“All of the ongoing problems and gaps in the systems that we have been dealing with since forever are being exaggerated. The systems in place have completely failed—especially undocumented survivors. For people living in poverty and abuse, the only way that people are surviving is by relying on their informal communities and networks.” 

Although the nation is opening up again, the economy is still deeply impacted by the pandemic, as is our social sphere and access to benefits. These challenges are still impacting organizations’ ability to provide full services. In addition, job loss, access to child care, housing instability, and other financial and social insecurities may continue to keep survivors in harmful situations. For instance, according to CSAJ’s report, survivors of domestic abuse face more difficulty obtaining unemployment benefits. 

In Chicago, Sexual Assault Reports Have Increased, Arrests Have Not

80-90% of Sexual Harm Reports Do Not Result in an Arrest (Source)

In October of 2020, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) released a report analyzing the Chicago Police Department’s response to sex crimes reported between 2010 and 2019. They discovered that only 10 to 20% of the reports resulted in an arrest. And the few arrests that did happen frequently occurred weeks or months after the report. 

Arrest rates have declined since 2010 for all four categories CAASE researched: aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse. They are also lower than arrest rates for other types of violent crimes.

Criminal Sexual Assault Reports Have Increased by 44% Since 2010 (Source)

The report also found that reports for criminal sexual assault increased 44 percent between 2010 and 2019.

In Illinois, 37% of Women and 15% of Men will Experience Contact Sexual Violence In Their Lifetime

According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, in Illinois, 36.6% of women and 14.6% of men will experience some form of physical sexual violence — percentages on par with the national averages. Contact sexual violence includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.

Over 50% of reports of sexual violence against women name a current or former intimate partner as the perpetrator while for men, 39% of perpetrators are current or former intimate partners, 45.8% are acquaintances.

In 2019, 94.9% of Calls Made to the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline Are From Cisgender Women, And The Highest Percentage Of Calls Were Made by Black Women (Source)

While this information paints a picture of who is experiencing domestic violence, it’s important to remember that some communities may be less comfortable calling and/or reporting situations, as well.

According to a report by The Network, young women of color are less likely to be provided assistance from the police even though they’re one of the populations that’s at the highest risk.

Bisexual Women More At Risk Than Straight and Lesbian Women

Nationally, Bisexual Women Are More Likely to Be the Victim of Rape and Sexual Violence Than Lesbian and Heterosexual Women (Source)

Bisexual women are more likely to be the victim of sexual violence by any perpetrator, as well as experience rape, physicial violence or stalking by an intimate partner.

Over 46% of bisexual women polled have experienced rape, as opposed to 13% of lesbian women and 17% of heterosexual women. Bisexual women are also more likely to experience rape earlier in life.

These statistics come from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey’s 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. 2010 is the most recent data collected  — a report released in 2013.

One In Two Transgender Individuals Are Sexually Abused Or Assaulted

According to the Office for Victims of Crime, 50% of trans individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. “This indicates that the majority of transgender individuals are living with the aftermath of trauma and the fear of possible repeat victimization.”

The perpetrators are frequently professionals, such as police officers, health care professionals, or educational staff. In any given situation, there’s a stark increase in sexual assault for African-American trans folks.

Support for Chicago Survivors

Some of the organizations and resources for sexual violence survivors in Chicago:


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Jera Brown

Jera writes about sexuality, spirituality, and social justice. They are the author of Just the Tip, a queer-friendly, sex-positive, relationship advice column and the editor of Sacred and Subversive,...