Sexual Assault Myths
|Myth: Rape happens only to certain types of women.||+|
Any person of any age, race, class, religion, occupation, physical ability, sexual identity, or appearance can be raped. Almost one out of every five undergraduate women experience attempted or completed sexual assault while in college. Also, men can be raped. Approximately 6.1% of males reported being victims of completed or attempted sexual assault during college.
|Myth: Most sexual assaults occur as spontaneous acts in dark alleys and are committed by strangers||+|
The vast majority of all sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knew. This can range from someone known to the survivor only by sight, to individuals with whom they are very close: a best friend, a lover, or spouse. Even adolescent or adult male survivors are primarily assaulted by acquaintances’ usually other men, but sometimes women as well. Also, statistics show that 50% of sexual assaults occur in or around a survivor’s home and 50% of the assaults occur during the day.
|Myth: Women give mixed messages because they don’t want to admit that they really want to have sex. They just need to be convinced to relax and enjoy themselves.||+|
Rape is a crime for which the perpetrator has responsibility. By understanding that rape is rape, regardless of the relationship between the parties, and regardless of the behavior of the victim, the focus will stay on the perpetrator’s behavior, not the victim’s. It is important to note that coercion is unreasonable pressure for sexual activity. Coercion is the use of emotional manipulation to persuade someone to do something they may not want to do such as being sexual or performing certain sexual acts. Being coerced into having sex or performing sexual acts is not consenting to having sex and is considered sexual misconduct.
|Myth: A rapist is easy to spot in a crowd.||+|
There is nothing about rapists’ appearances that distinguishes them from others. Rapists come from all races, ethnic or socioeconomic groups. They can be large, small, able-bodied, married or single, or a person with a disability.
|Myth: Men can’t be sexually assaulted.||+|
Somewhere between one in six and one in ten males are sexually assaulted. As with female survivors, male survivors can be supported best by talking about the issue in an inclusive way, avoiding the presumption that all survivors are female, and assuming that all male victims are gay.
|Myth: Women lie about rape as an act of revenge or guilt.||+|
A judge of the New York State Supreme Court has said, “False rape charges are not frequently made; only about 2% of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false—the same as other felonies.” FBI statistics support this as well. This is the same rate of false reporting as other major crime reports.
|Myth: Someone who was drinking, drunk or used drugs when sexually assaulted is at least partially to blame.||+|
Sexual assault survivors are never responsible for the attack, no matter how much alcohol or drugs were consumed. Responsibility lies with the perpetrator; the survivor is never responsible for the assailant’s behavior. Alcohol and drugs may increase the risk of being targeted for sexual assault, and may make someone incapable of giving consent or protecting themselves, but it is not the cause of the assault. For sex to be legal, both parties must be of age and consenting. Both parties must be able to mentally, emotionally, physically, and verbally choose to engage in the sexual activity. Vulnerable behaviors do not excuse the criminal behaviors of another person.
|Myth: Persons who dress or act in a “sexy” way or dance seductively are asking to be sexually assaulted.||+|
No one ever asks to be raped. The sexual appearance and/or seductive behaviors of a person DO NOT equal consent. Many convicted sexual assailants are unable to remember what their victims looked like or were wearing. Nothing a person does or does not do causes a brutal crime like sexual assault. People believe this myth so that they do not have to admit that they, too, could become a victim. The thought process being, “I do not dress sexy, so I will never be raped.” The fact is that a woman has the right to dress in any way she chooses. Her choice of clothing in NO WAY grants permission or invites rape. This thought process can also be applied to other myths, such as “She was raped because of the places she goes, the people she hangs out with, or the amount of makeup that she wears.” No victim has ever asked to be raped. It is important to remember that rape is the responsibility of the rapist, not the victim.
|Myth: Sexual assault is provoked by the victim’s actions or behaviors.||+|
Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault. Sexual assault is a violent attack on an individual, not a spontaneous crime of sexual passion. For a victim, it is a humiliating and degrading act. No one “asks” for or deserves this type of attack.
|Myth: Sexual assault is a crime of passion and lust.||+|
Sexual assault is a crime of violence. The assailants seek to dominate, humiliate and punish their victims.
|Myth: You cannot be assaulted against your will.||+|
Assailants overpower their victims with the threat of violence or with actual violence. Especially in cases of acquaintance rape or incest, an assailant often uses the victim’s trust in him/her to isolate the victim.
|Myth: A person who has really been assaulted will be hysterical after the assault.||+|
Survivors exhibit a spectrum of emotional responses to assault: calm, hysteria, laughter, anger, apathy, shock. Each survivor copes with the trauma of the assault in a different way.
|Myth: Only young, pretty women are sexually assaulted.||+|
Survivors range in age from infancy to old age, and their appearance is seldom a consideration. Assailants often choose victims who seem most vulnerable to attack: old persons, children, physically or emotionally disabled persons, substance abusers, and street persons. Men are also attacked.
|Myth: Rape requires the use of a weapon.||+|
This is false. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 80% of rape and sexual assault incidents do not involve a weapon.
|Myth: It is impossible to rape a spouse or significant other.||+|
Just because someone has consented to have sex with a spouse or partner once, twice, or a hundred times before does not mean that he or she has consented to all future sex with that person.
|Myth: If a man has forced sex with a woman on a date, it is not legally considered rape.||+|
Sex without consent is legally defined as rape. Dating does not give a person the right to force his/her sexual desires onto another person. A woman may choose to go out on a blind date, go to a man’s house/apartment for dinner, or enter into a long-term relationship with one person (including marriage); however, none of these situations allow a man to demand or force sex. One additional point, a woman may have had other sexual experiences or may have previously had sex with a man whom she is dating, but every experience is different and saying yes on one date does not mean that you need to say yes on every date. “No” means “No” and any form of force equals rape.
|Myth: Rape is an impulsive, uncontrollable act of sexual gratification.||+|
This myth is sustained by those who argue that most rapes are spontaneous, that is, a sexually frustrated person sees an attractive individual and just can’t control himself/herself. In fact, the majority of rapes are planned rather than being spontaneous. The rapist does not choose the victim because he/she is young, pretty, or provocatively dressed; the assailant chooses the victim who is vulnerable. The assailant may select a victim who is smaller or weaker than he/she is, who is alone, who is handicapped in some way, or who does not suspect what is about to happen. All evidence indicates that rape is a brutal act of violence and a display of power, rather than an act of passion or sexual gratification.
|Myth: People who commit sexual assaults are mentally ill, abnormal perverts.||+|
Sexual offenders come from all educational, occupational, racial and cultural backgrounds. They are “ordinary” and “normal” individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them and inflict violence, humiliation and degradation.
|Myth: Victims who do not fight back have not been sexually assaulted.||+|
Anytime someone is forced to have sex against their will, they have been sexually assaulted, regardless of whether or not they fought back. There are many reasons why a victim might not physically fight their attacker including shock, fear, threats or the size and strength of the attacker.
* Sources: University of Virginia; Stanford University; Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc.; Christopher P. Krebs, et al., The Campus Sexual Assaults (CSA) Study: Final Report, published by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (October 2007); U.S. Department of Justice, 2005 National Crime Victimization Study, 2005