20 Common Myths About Rape And Sexual Assault

Sexual crimes like rape and sexual assault are surrounded by myths. These myths are damaging to society and are especially damaging for victims of sexual violence, who are often afraid of speaking out in case they are not believed.

The only people who benefit from these myths are the rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence, who take advantage of the confusion and victim-blaming to get away with their crimes.

These myths can only to combated with education, and that’s why I’m writing this post – to bust those horrendous myths and share the truth.

I’d appreciate it, dear reader, if you could share these truths with your loved ones as well. Start a conversation, get them to read this post, or encourage them do their own research – just keep the train of education going and help to wipe out the myths and replace them with facts.

Thank you.

Myth #1 – Rape and sexual assault are motivated by uncontrollable sexual desire

Fact: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of power and control. They are motivated by the perpetrator’s wish to dominate their victim and are not motivated by lust or sexual desire.

Perpetrators of sexual violence make the conscious decision to commit these crimes with the knowledge that their victim is not consenting. There is no truth in the myth that once a person is aroused, they must have sex and are physically incapable of stopping themselves.

Myth #2 – People who commit rape and sexual assault are typical “bad” people

Fact: Perpetrators of rape and sexual assault come in all different shapes and sizes. It’s impossible to spot a rapist just by looking at them. Many people think that rapists are thuggish, stupid, obviously aggressive trouble-makers with criminal pasts. This is a myth. Rapists are ordinary people – they are the people you trust, like your family, friends and partner.

Myth #3 – Rape and sexual assault only happen to pretty, young women

Fact: Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence. Sexual violence is caused by a wish to dominate and control the victim, rather than lust, and therefore many victims are not what most would consider sexually attractive – such as children and the elderly. Males and females of any age, level of attractiveness, sexual orientation, social class, marital status and race can all be victims of rape and sexual assault.

Myth #4 – The victim is to blame if they behaved inappropriately

Fact: Victim-blaming is a very wide-ranging, very common and very dangerous practice. It is never the victim’s fault that they were raped or sexually assaulted. The blame always lies 100% with the abuser. It is common for people to blame the victim for the attack if they:

  • were drunk,
  • took drugs,
  • flirted,
  • dressed in sexy clothes,
  • were promiscuous or “slutty”,
  • walked alone.

Let’s just get this clear: even if the victim did one or more of the bulletpoints above, they were not “asking for it” and they were not to blame. It is the perpetrator who is actively making the decision to sexually abuse their victim when they are not giving consent or incapable of giving consent. It is the perpetrator who is at fault.

Myth #5 – It’s not rape/sexual assault if the victim didn’t say “no”

Fact: Rather than thinking “no means no”, we really should be thinking “only yes means yes”. Because anything less than a “yes” is not clear-cut consent, and therefore if you’re a situation where your partner doesn’t say yes or encourage you to continue, you should stop.

Obviously “no” is the clearest way for a person to communicate that they are not consenting to the sexual activity, but there are many other ways that victims can express their lack of consent too. And if the victim say or does any of these things, and their partner continues, then it is rape/sexual assault.

Let’s break this down a bit. These are all ways of saying “no”:

  • “No”,
  • “Stop”,
  • “I don’t want this”,
  • “I’m not sure about this”,
  • “Wait”,
  • “Can we slow down a bit”,
  • “I’m not comfortable with this”,
  • “I don’t know”.

It is also possible to communicate lack of consent without words:

  • Silence implies a lack of consent,
  • Going stiff or freezing,
  • Trying to turn or pull away,
  • Hitting, kicking, punching or biting,
  • Crying,
  • Being asleep.

This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the gist.

Myth #6 – It’s not rape/sexual assault if the victim didn’t struggle or fight it

Fact: Rape and sexual assault happen when the victim does not consent to the sexual activity. There is no requirement for them to struggle or fight. Indeed, many victims do not struggle or fight, for example if they are frozen with shock, or if they are afraid that struggling might incite their abuser to use violence against them to keep them still.

Furthermore, many victims who are repeatedly raped or sexually assaulted become helpless and don’t fight because they know it simply will not stop their abuser.

Myth #7 – It’s not rape/sexual assault if the victim voluntarily went to the perpetrator’s house or bedroom

Fact: It is never too late to withdraw your consent from sexual acts. Going to someone’s house or bedroom does not take away your right to say “no” later. You always have to right to control your own body.

Myth #8 – It’s not rape or sexual assault if the two people are married or in a relationship

Fact: This is an extremely dangerous myth and is one that needs to be stamped out. Rape is rape, and sexual assault is sexual assault, whether the two people are married, in a relationship, friends, acquaintances or strangers. Being married or in a relationship does not give someone the right to rape or sexually abuse their partner. It is not an excuse, either morally or legally. If a victim does not consent to sexual activity, then it is a crime.

Please note that marital rape was made illegal in England and Wales in 1991 in the case of R v R (1991). Prior to 1991, husbands were legally allowed to rape and sexually abuse their wives.

Myth #9 – It’s not rape/sexual assault if the victim had an orgasm

Fact: Some people think that if the victim had an orgasm then it shows that they were actually enjoying it and that it therefore wasn’t rape/sexual assault. This is incorrect.

Some victims may orgasm during their rape/sexual assault but this is a purely biological response to a physical stimuli. It does not mean that they enjoyed it and it does not mean that they actually consented.

Victims can find it extremely upsetting and confusing if they orgasmed during their ordeal. If this has happened to you, please do not feel ashamed. It is a biological response that you had no control over. It does not belittle your experience or mean that you were somehow consenting to the abuse or encouraging it.

Myth #10 – Most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by strangers

Fact: The vast majority (91%) of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to and trusted by the victim. Rapes and sexual assaults are most commonly committed by a victim’s partner, ex-partner, friend or family member.

Only 9% of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

(Stats source: Ministry of Justice)

Myth #11 – Most rapes and sexual assaults take place in isolated locations

Fact: Reflecting the fact that most rapes are not committed by opportunistic strangers, most rapes do not take place in isolated locations. Most rapes and sexual assaults take place in the victim’s or the perpetrator’s own home.

Myth #12 – Sometimes when a woman says “no”, she means “yes”

Fact: I really don’t understand how anyone could possibly think that “no” means “yes”, but apparently a lot of people do. Some people think that a woman is only saying “no”  to be a tease or to try to preserve her modesty. Some people think that all women have a secret rape fantasy and want to be dominated. Whatever their reasoning, they are wrong.

“No” means “no”. It does not mean “yes”. Ever.

Myth #13 – All victims are female, and all perpetrators are male

Fact: Only males can commit rape because it is defined as the perpetrator using his penis to penetrate his victim. However, both females and males can be victims of rape, although female victims are more common.

Sexual assault can be carried out by either sex against either sex. The majority of sexual assaults involve a male perpetrator and a female victim, but male-on-male, female-on-female, and female-on-male sexual assaults do also take place.

Myth #14 – People who commit rape and sexual assault are mentally ill, and therefore should not be punished

Fact: There is no mental illness that makes you rape and sexually abuse other people.

The vast majority of perpetrators are mentally healthy and are not psychotic at the time the offence took place – i.e. they knew exactly what they were doing – and therefore they deserve to be punished.

The law says that even if a defendant has a mental illness, they are still responsible for their actions and will be fully punished by the courts. This is because the legal defence of “insanity” has an extremely narrow legal definition, not a psychiatric definition.

Myth #15 – Some people deserve to be raped or sexually assaulted

Fact: Some people think that certain people deserve to be raped or sexually assaulted as a punishment for their lifestyles.

The following groups of people are often targeted:

  • Gay, bisexual and transgender people,
  • Ethnic minorities,
  • Promiscuous people and sex workers,
  • People involved in women’s rights movements.

Let’s make this very clear: no one deserves to be a victim of sexual violence. Sexual violence should never be used as a weapon, punishment or intimidation tactic. The people who use sexual violence as a weapon are the ones who are lacking in morals, not the groups they choose to victimise.

Myth #16 – Victims often lie about being raped/sexually assaulted

Fact: False accusations of rape and sexual assault are extremely rare.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) conducted a review into prosecutions in 2011 and 2012 and found that:

  • There were 111,891 prosecutions for domestic violence, and 6 for making false allegations of domestic violence.
  • There were 5,651 prosecutions for rape, and 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape.

Please note that even when a defendant is found “not guilty” of rape or sexual assault, it does not mean they are innocent, or that the victim was lying. It simply means that there was not enough evidence for the jury to be completely sure of their guilt – remember that the default position in criminal trials in England and Wales is that the defendant walks free.

Myth #17 – If the victim can’t remember every detail, then it never happened

Fact: This is simply not true. There are a number of reasons why a victim may not remember everything about their ordeal, for example:

  • If they have tried to forget what happened as part of the healing process,
  • If they were drunk or otherwise intoxicated at the time,
  • If it happened a long time ago,
  • If they were very young at the time,
  • If they have a illness affecting their memory.

Just because they cannot remember everything, does not mean it never happened.

Myth #18 – Perpetrators of same-sex rape/sexual assault are gay

Fact: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of control and hate, not crimes of lust. The vast majority of same-sex sex crimes are committed by straight people, and are often accompanied by violence as part of a homophobic attack.

Myth #19 – You can’t rape a prostitute

Fact: It is possible to rape and sexually assault a prostitute, because they are people just like anyone else, and they are covered by the same laws as non-prostitutes.

Like everyone, prostitutes have the right to control what happens to their bodies. Even if the client has already paid for sexual services, the prostitute has the right to change her/his mind at any time and withdraw from the agreement. If the client continues after the prostitute has made it clear they no longer want to provide the sexual services, then it is rape/sexual assault.

Myth #20 – Most victims report the crime(s) to the police, and this usually leads to a prosecution

Fact: The vast majority of sexual crimes are not reported to the police, and those that are reported do not usually result in a prosecution.

Why?

The myths surrounding sexual violence are a big part of the problem.

The myths encourage victim-blaming and encourage the attitude that sexual violence, in some situations, is OK. But rape and sexual assault are never OK.

If we can bust these myths, then we can change rape culture and encourage a better, more understanding atmosphere where victims understand their rights and the general public understand that it is never the victim’s fault that they were abused; that the responsibility is always on the perpetrator.

If we can bust these myths, then, ultimately, more victims will report their crimes to the police and this should translate to a greater number of prosecutions.

In short, if we can bust these myths, then more victims of sexual violence will get the justice that they deserve.

For more myth busting, check out our blog post “Image Gallery: Busting The Myths Surrounding Rape And Sexual Assault”.

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2 thoughts on “20 Common Myths About Rape And Sexual Assault

  1. “Myth #2 – People who commit rape and sexual assault are typical “bad” people”

    This is an important one to me.

    My rapist was my boyfriend and up until he started raping me he was the greatest boyfriend, he was a nice guy who was very popular and loved by everyone. He wasn’t violent, but I said no and he did it anyway time and time again – his friends would see me getting upset with him and just assume I was being a crazy bitch giving him a hard time, so they started bullying me. They’d have never believed me, no one would because he was such a nice guy who’d do anything for anyone, and I don’t think he ever realized that what he was doing was rape…I didn’t really know either, not until years later after a lot of destructive behavior.

    He died last year, so many people locally mourned him…I can no longer confront him about it, and I can’t tell anyone I know in case it gets back to his family that I’m talking ill of a dead person. I’m stuck with it now.

    Like

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