Original Paper

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 273-284

First online:

Sexual Assault as a Crime Against Young People

  • Richard B. FelsonAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Crime, Law, and Justice, Pennsylvania State University Email author 
  • , Patrick R. CundiffAffiliated withDepartment of Criminal Justice, East Carolina University

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Evidence based on almost 300,000 sexual assaults from the National Incident-Based Reporting System showed that the modal age of victims was 15 years, regardless of the age of the offender, the gender of the offender, or the gender of the victim. We suggest that adolescents have the highest risk of victimization because of their sexual attractiveness, vulnerability, and exposure to motivated offenders. As a result of these factors, sexual assault is as much an offense against young people as it is against women. The sexual attractiveness of young people also has implications for the age of offenders. Older men have much higher rates of offending than one would expect, given the age–desistance relationship. Thus, we found that older men have much higher rates of sexual assault than physical assault. Finally, evidence suggested that homosexual men were at least as likely as heterosexual men to commit sexual assault. The pattern suggests that the tendency for sexual assaults to involve male offenders and female victims reflects male sexuality rather than attitudes toward women.


Sexual assault Adolescents Evolutionary theory Routine activities Age