Myths vs Truths

MYTH Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. Being careful while out in public is the best way to reduce one’s risk of being victimized.

TRUTH It is estimated that 83% of rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows, such as a friend, family member, or intimate partner(5).  Only a small fraction of sexual assaults occur in public. The majority take place in the survivor’s own home, or that of a friend or family member(6). This violation of trust often leaves survivors feeling vulnerable and unsure of their own judgement.

MYTH Incest and child sexual abuse are rare.

TRUTH Incest and child sexual abuse are common and happen in every community. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused as children(7). 11% of rape victims are raped by their fathers or stepfathers; another 16% are raped by other relatives(8).

MYTH Men cannot be raped.

TRUTH Men represent 13% of sexual assault survivors(9). Typically, the perpetrator is a heterosexual male. Being sexually assaulted cannot “make someone gay.”

MYTH Sexual assault only happens between heterosexual people.

TRUTH Sexual assault occurs in LGBTQ relationships and communities at rates consistent with the heterosexual population. LGBTQ individuals are also targeted for sexual assault as a hate crime because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

MYTH People with disabilities are not affected by sexual violence.

TRUTH This myth stems from the mistaken belief that people with disabilities are asexual, and from the misconception that sexual assault is about sexual attraction. People with all types of disabilities are at high risk for experiencing sexual violence because perpetrators seek victims who are vulnerable and less likely to report. 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities are sexual assault survivors(10). 97% to 99% of perpetrators are known and trusted by the survivor(11).

MYTH Wearing sexy clothes, drinking alcohol, and flirting are all ways of "asking for it". People should know better than to behave provocatively or put themselves in dangerous situations.

TRUTH The survivor is never to blame for sexual assault. This “assumption of risk” wrongfully places the responsibility of the perpetrator’s actions on the victim. Perpetrators are responsible for choosing to sexually violate someone, irrespective of the choices made by a survivor about dress, behavior, or alcohol. There is no correlation between who is raped and the clothes they are wearing or their flirtatious behavior at the time. Sexual assault is a humiliating situation. No person would ask for or deserve such an attack.

MYTH If a person kisses or makes out with someone, they are inviting further sexual activity. They can’t claim to have been sexually assaulted if the sexual activity escalates beyond what they originally intended.

TRUTH If a person consented to engage in some sexual activity, it does not serve as blanket consent for all sexual activity. If a person is unsure about whether the other person is comfortable with an elevated level of sexual activity, the person should stop and ask. When someone says “No” or “Stop,” that means STOP. Sexual activity forced upon another without consent is sexual assault.

MYTH It’s not sexual assault if it happens after drinking or taking drugs.

TRUTH 75% of male students and 55% of female students involved in acquaintance rape had been drinking or using drugs(12). A person who is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is not capable of giving legal consent to sexual activity. It is a crime to use alcohol or drugs as a means to engage in sexual activity with someone against their will.

MYTH It is impossible for someone to sexually assault their spouse or partner.

TRUTH It doesn’t matter if two people are married, dating, or have had consensual sex in the past—forcing or coercing someone to engage in sexual activity is sexual assault. 14% of married women have experienced rape or attempted rape by their husbands(13).

MYTH Most rapes are committed against white women by men of color.

TRUTH In 80%-90% of all violent crimes against women, the survivor and perpetrator are of the same race(14). The Department of Justice found no significant difference in the rate of rape and sexual assault among racial groups(15). When men rape women of other races and ethnicities, it is more often a white perpetrator raping a woman of color than a man of color raping a white woman. The myth that most rapes involve men of color raping white women may be perpetuated by the publicity afforded to those assaults that fit cultural and racial stereotypes(16).

MYTH Rapists are crazy, deranged, abnormal perverts. They are lonely men without female partnership.

TRUTH Perpetrators are often respected, trusted members of the community. Most perpetrators are heterosexual men who are married or have consensual sexual relationships while assaulting other women(17). The major difference between men who rape and men who don’t is in their attitudes toward women. They often believe that they have a right to sexual access to women whenever they please and therefore often don’t view what they do as rape. They typically view women with contempt and sometimes deep hostility, and have a strong tendency to express violence and rage.

MYTH Men rape women because that is men’s nature and biological role.

TRUTH Rape is not universal. There are many societies in which men never rape women. There are connections between a high rate of rape, the glorification of violence, the objectification of women, the encouragement of tough and aggressive behavior in men, and the prevalence of war. Societies that regarded the roles of women and men as equal in status are societies with little or no rape(18).

MYTH Women don’t commit sexual assault.

TRUTH Studies show that 98% of perpetrators of sexual assault are men, however, women are sometimes sexual aggressors(19). Cases of women assaulting other women are often obscured by the invisibility of lesbian relationships and assumptions about women’s inherently gentle nature. Women raping men is rare, but not unknown. Most situations reported involve a woman perpetrator in conjunction with a male perpetrator, a group of women targeting a male victim, or a woman exploiting a male’s inability to resist because of intoxication or other conditions.

MYTH There is a “right way” to respond to a rape situation. It’s only rape if the victim puts up a fight and resists.

TRUTH Rape is a life-threatening experience and each perpetrator is different. Therefore, the best thing a victim can do is to follow their instincts and intuition in order to survive. Many victims do not resist attacks because they fear violence, are intoxicated, have been socialized to be passive, or because they know the perpetrator. A victim may cooperate with the perpetrator in order to live through the assault. However, this is not consent; they are using their wits to survive.

MYTH A person who has been sexually assaulted will be hysterical.

TRUTH Survivors of sexual violence exhibit an array of responses to an assault that can include: calm, panic, withdrawal, anger, fear, sadness, apathy, denial, and shock. Survivors may cry, scream, sit quietly, laugh hysterically, or seem distant. There is no “right way” to react to sexual assault. Each survivor copes with the trauma in different ways that can vary over time.

MYTH The best way for survivors to get over sexual assault is to act like it didn’t happen and get on with their lives.

TRUTH Rape has a devastating effect on the mental health of survivors. Between 50% and 95% develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(20). The healing process varies for each survivor. All survivors have a right to support and validation from friends, family and service providers, no matter where they are in their healing process or how long ago the assault occurred.

Citations

  • (1) Special thanks to the California, Colorado, and Illinois Coalitions Against Sexual Assault and Gillian Greensite’s “Rape Myths” for the information contained in this section.
  • (2)Kilpatrick D.G., Edmunds, C.N. & Seymour, A. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Victim Center, 1992.
  • (3) Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000.
  • (4) Kilpatrick D.G., Edmunds CN, Seymour A, 1992. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, Arlington VA; National Victim Center.
  •  (5) Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: findings from the national violence against women survey. Washington (DC): National Institute of Justice; 2000. Report NCJ 183781.
  • (6) Bureau of Justice Statistics. Sex Offenses and Offenders 1997. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
  • (7) Shanta Dube, M.P.H., U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham; June 2005, American Journal of Preventive Medicine
  • (8) Kilpatrick DJ, Edmunds CN, Seymour A, 1992. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, Arlington VA; National Victim Center.
  • (9) Department of Justice. Criminal victimization 2002. Washington (DC): U.S. Government Printing Office; 2003.
  • (10) Stimson, L. and Best, M.C. Courage Above All: Sexual Assault Among Women with Disabilities. Toronto, Disabled Women’s Network Canada, 1991.
  • (11)Balderian, N. (1991). “Sexual Abuse of People with Developmental Disabilities.” Sexuality and Disability, 9 (4), 323-335.
  • (12)Koss, MP, 1998. “Hidden Rape: Incident, Prevalence and Descriptive Characteristics of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of College Students.” Rape and Sexual Assault, Vol. II (ed.) AW Burgess. New York: Garland Publishing Co.
  • (13) Russell, D.E. Rape in Marriage. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, IN, 1990.
  • (14) U.S. Department of Justice, 1994. Violence Against Women. Rockville, Maryland: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • (15) Greenfield, Lawrence A., 1997. Sex Offenses and Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
  • (16) The Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, Sioux City, Iowa. www.safefromabuse.com
  • (17) A. Nicholas Groth with H. Jean Birnbaum, Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender (New York: Plenum Press, 1980).
  • (18) Peggy Reeves Sanday, “The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape: A Cross-Cultural Study,” Journal of Social Issues 37, no. 4 (1981).
  • (19) Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000). Women Offenders. Washington D.C., U.S. Department of Justice
  • (20)Population Information Program, 2000.