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South Dakota: Second Highest Rape Rate

Since 1960, the rape rate in South Dakota has been steadily increasing according to the South Dakota Department of Health. However, in the last 30 years, South Dakota has exceeded the national rate and most years placed in the top five states for highest rape numbers per 100,000 inhabitants in the United States.

In 2021, South Dakota had the second highest rape rate in the United States with 72.6 per 100,000 people. This came behind Arkansas which had a rate of 77.2 according to The South Dakota Network Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault’s Efforts to Address Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Report by Bridget Diamond Welch at the Center for Rural Health Improvement.

The rape rates for states do not include rape on tribal land or on college campuses unless documented by local police.

Rape is defined by the United States Department of Justice as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

In South Dakota, the definition of rape is contingent on if the act of sexual penetration meets one of the following circumstances: 1. If the victim is younger than 13, 2. If the act is committed through the use of force, coercion or threats, 3. If the victim is unable to give consent due to physical or mental incapacity, 4. If the victim is unable to give consent due to alcohol, drugs or anesthetic and 5. If the victim is between 13-16 and the perpetrator is at least three years older.

Programs in Place

The state created an action plan in 2019 to try and curb the rising numbers of rape incidents that would run through 2024. The South Dakota Rape Prevention Education State Action Plan was created by Taylor Pfeifle, the Rape Prevention Education director at the South Dakota Department of Health.

This plan outlined two prevention strategies, the Green Dot and Shifting Boundaries.

Green Dot began in 2016 and is “a college bystander intervention approach that identifies leaders and teaches them how to engage and promote the change of social norms to reduce sexual violence behavior on their campus.”

This program targets college campuses in South Dakota to stop the increasing trends of sexual violence seen through the Campus Climate Survey, Campus Safety and Security Data and through the Ethel Austin Martin Program report from SDSU.

The second program is Shifting Boundaries, which targets middle school students through a two-part intervention which hopes to reduce dating violence and sexual harassment among youth. The two parts include a classroom-based curriculum that will highlight the consequences for perpetrators and a program-wide component that will increase staff surveillance in unsafe areas.

On top of Green Dot, SDSU decided to join It’s On Us, which is a national campaign raising awareness to sexual assault on campus. SDSU’s website says they plan to hold each other accountable to shift the way college students think about sexual assault and minimize the current 11.2% of all college students who are victims of rape or sexual assault.

USD has all freshmen complete a mandatory SafeColleges Online Training course titled Sexual Violence Prevention for Undergraduate Students. This is an hour-long online course that details what sexual violence is and how consent is key.

Higher Risk for Native Americans

South Dakota’s rape rate doesn’t factor in the nine Native American reservations which see a large amount of sexual violence every year.

Four of the nine tribal areas had higher rates than the state rate of 72.6. These included the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. There may be more tribes that have a higher rate than the state, but the Flandreau Santee, Oglala Sioux and Yankton Sioux tribes had no available data according to Diamond-Welch.

These higher rates on tribal land could be due to the fact that interpersonal violence rises in rural areas and is seen to be more chronic and severe, Diamond-Welch explained in her report. Due to the rural nature, many victims could see increased psychological, social or health consequences when unable to access resources and services after the incident. These issues can be made worse on tribal land since seeking outside help as a victim may be seen as a colonized process.

In 2020, only 9% of South Dakota’s population was Native American, yet they accounted for 31.1% of all rape victims in the state, according to the Sexual Violence in South Dakota 2020 Data Report from the Population of Health Evaluation Center and the Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment.

Pfeifle explained in the state’s action plan that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence than women in the United States overall. In 2016, 56.1% of Native American women said they experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Recent Numbers

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program keeps track of the number of rape incidents that occur in each state every year through a process where each state’s law enforcement agencies submit information about each case.

In 2021, South Dakota reported 516 rape incidents which came from law enforcement agencies covering 88% of the state population (110 of the 145 agencies in the state).

Out of these 516 rapes, 117 (22.7%) were perpetrated by someone between 10-19 years of age and 117 (22.7%) were committed by someone 20-29 years old. The younger than 19 age group reported the highest number of victims (46.1%).

In 2021, 488 of the victims were female and 38 were male. White and Native American individuals had the highest victimization rate with 237 and 228 rapes, respectively.

Most of the rapes that took place in 2021 were done in a home by an acquaintance.

Other states in the surrounding area reported a larger number of rape incidents than South Dakota with Nebraska reporting 781, Iowa reported 1,331 and Minnesota reported 2,356. North Dakota and Wyoming were the only surrounding states with a lower number of rapes at 395 and 287, respectively.         For those victimized by rape or sexual violence, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available at 1-800-656-4673. The South Dakota Department of Public Safety also has a Victims’ Assistance Program available that can provide shelter, advocacy, crisis counseling and other services needed by victims.