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Sexual Violence: Myths and misconceptions

MYTH 1: Victims cause the violence that has happened to them FACT: It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing or how they are acting, no one asks to be raped. People who sexually assault often use force, threat, or injury. An absence of injuries does not indicate the victim consented.

MYTH 2: There is no reason for a victim not to report being raped to law enforcement FACT: Rape is the least reported and convicted violence crime in the U.S. There are many reasons why victims may choose not to report to law enforcement or tell anyone about what happened to him/her. Some include:

  • concern for not being believed

  • fear of the attackers getting back at him/her

  • embarrassment or shame

  • fear of being blamed

  • pressure from others not to tell

  • distrust of law enforcement

  • belief that there is not enough evidence

  • desire to protect the attacker

MYTH 3: Victims provoke sexual assaults when they dress provocatively or act in a promiscuous manner. FACT: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence and control that stem from a person’s determination to exercise power over another. Forcing someone to engage in non-consensual sexual activity is sexual assault, regardless of the way that person dresses or acts.

MYTH 4: If a person goes to someone’s room, house, or goes to a bar, he/she assumes the risk of sexual assault. If something happens later, he/she can’t claim that he/she was raped or sexually assaulted because he/she should have known not to go to those places. FACT: This “assumption of risk” wrongfully places the responsibility of the offender’s actions with the victim. Even if a person went voluntarily to someone’s residence or room and consented to engage in some sexual activity, it does not serve as a blanket consent for all sexual activity.

MYTH 5: It’s not sexual assault if it happens after drinking or taking drugs. FACT:Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not an invitation for non-consensual sexual activity. A person under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not cause others to assault him/her; others choose to take advantage of the situation and sexually assault him/her because he/she is in a vulnerable position.

MYTH 6: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. It’s not rape if the people involved knew each other. FACT: Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Among victims aged 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the offender.

MYTH 7: Rape can be avoided if people avoid dark alleys or other “dangerous” places where strangers might be hiding or lurking. FACT: Rape and sexual assault can occur at any time, in many places, to anyone.

MYTH 8: It’s only rape if the victim puts up a fight and resists. FACT: There are many reasons why a victim of sexual assault would not fight or resist her attacker. She/he may feel that fighting or resisting will make her/his attacker angry, resulting in more severe injury.

MYTH 9: Sexual assault is often the result of miscommunication or a mistake. FACT: Sexual assault is a crime, never simply a mistake. It does not occur due to a miscommunication between two people. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion.

MYTH 10: Sexual assault won’t happen to me or to anyone I know. FACT: Men, women and children of all ages, races, religions, and economic classes, and can be and have been, victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault occurs in rural areas, small towns and larger cities. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a rape or attempted rape occurs every 5 minutes in the United States.

MYTH 11: Sexual assault is provoked by the victim’s actions, behaviors, or by the way they dress. FACT: 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 caused their assailant to commit a crime against them.

MYTH 12: Most sexual assaults occur between strangers. FACT: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows: a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner or ex-partner. Studies show that approximately 80% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their assailant.

MYTH 13: Sexual assaults only occur in dark alleys and isolated areas. FACT: A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes, cars and offices.

MYTH 14: Women falsely accuse men of sexual assault or “cry rape.” FACT: Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. FBI crime statistics indicate that only 2% of reported rapes are false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other major crime reports.

MYTH 15: Men cannot be sexually assaulted. FACT: Men can be, and are, sexually assaulted. In Colorado one in seventeen men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Sexual assault of men is thought to be greatly underreported. Any man can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, sexual orientation, or appearance.

MYTH 16: Most sexual assaults are interracial. FACT: Almost all sexual assaults occur between members of the same race. Interracial rape is not common, but it does occur.

MYTH 17: People who commit sexual assaults are mentally ill, abnormal perverts.

FACT: 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 18: Victims who do not fight back have not been sexually assaulted. FACT: 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.

MYTH 19: A rape survivor will be battered, bruised, and hysterical. FACT: Many rape survivors are not visibly injured. The threat of violence alone is often sufficient cause for a woman to submit to the rapist, to protect herself from physical harm. People react to crisis in different ways. The reaction may range from composure to anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and suicidal feelings.

MYTH 20: “If you wouldn’t have been drinking, you wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.” FACT: Alcohol is a weapon that some perpetrators use to control their victim and render them helpless. As part of their plan, an assailant may encourage the victim to use alcohol, or identify an individual who is already drunk. Alcohol is not a cause of rape; it is only one of many tools that perpetrators use.

MYTH 21: Serial rapists are uncommon. FACT: Most every perpetrator is a serial rapist, meaning that they choose to use coercion, violence, threats of force, etc., to assault people on a repeated basis.

MYTH 21: When women say no, they really mean yes. FACT: Yes means yes! When someone says yes, s/he is explicitly giving consent. Silence does not equal consent. It is the responsibility of the person initiating or escalating sexual activity to gain consent at each and every level. If you are ever unclear about your partner’s wishes, ask for clarification. If your partner says no or seems unsure, respect that person and her/his wishes.

MYTH 22: If a person is aroused s/he is assaulted, then it is not really sexual assault. FACT: Orgasm does not mean that someone “enjoyed” the sex, or that they wanted it. Orgasm can be a natural biological reaction that someone can’t control; it does not mean that forced or coerced sexual activity was consensual and often this is used to silence the survivor.

Source: The Blue Bench: What is Sexual Assault

Sexual violence: myths vs facts

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