Many myths exist in our society about sexual assault that serve to justify sexual violence. Rape myths often involve victim-blaming statements about sexual assault such as, “They wouldn’t have gotten raped if they hadn’t been walking alone at night,” or “What did they expect would happen if they went upstairs with them?” These myths place the blame on the wrong person (the victim or survivor) instead of where it belongs (on the perpetrator). Unpacking some of the myths around sexual violence can help us better understand and prevent sexual violence in our community.
Fact: Sexual violence can happen to anyone. While most victims of sexual assault are women, anyone can be a victim regardless of their age, race, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, educational status, or ability.
Fact: Rape is an act of violence. It is a life-threatening experience. While sexual attraction may have some influence, acts of sexual violence are fundamentally rooted in power and control. Sexual assault is not simply a “crime of passion” where the perpetrator “losses control.” Many people have sexual desires, but not everyone commits sexual assault. Holding this perspective leads us to blame the victim and fail to hold the perpetrator accountable for their actions. Consider:
- Survivors of rape, such as children or the elderly, are not always those society would consider sexually attractive.
- Seventy percent of sexual assaults are partially or fully planned in advance, not “lustful” actions in the moment.
- Most rapists have available sexual relationships.
- Men and women have the same ability to control their “biological urges” to have sex.
Fact: Most (about 90 percent of) sexual assault survivors know their perpetrator. In many cases, the person who commits the violence is a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner, or ex-partner…and not a stranger in the bushes or a dark alley,
Fact: The idea that all perpetrators are psychopaths or mentally ill is not true. Crimes committed by the mentally ill are very different from crimes of sexual violence. Most individuals who struggle with mental illness do not commit acts of sexual violence. It is always a choice to commit acts of violence.
Fact: The idea that women entice men to rape them or that they really want it is also not true. No person deserves to be raped, and no person asks to be raped or wants it, irrespective of their attire. This myth again shows the extent to which sexual assault is sexualized in our society (when really, sexual assault is about power and control). What the victim was wearing in no way makes them responsible for the assault.
Fact: Sexual Assault is never the victim’s fault. No behavior or choice makes it okay for someone to assault someone else. By law, if a person is incapable of consenting or resisting, because of the effects of alcohol or other drugs, it can be considered rape or sexual assault if the person knew, or reasonably should have known, that the victim was mentally and/or physically incapacitated. Alcohol can also be a weapon that some people who rape use to control their victim and render them helpless. As part of their plan, a rapist will 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 the many tools that people who rape use.
Fact: No means no. When someone says no, they mean no. It should never be assumed that there is some underlying meaning behind that and that they really mean yes. 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 their wishes.
Fact: Maybe sometimes. But there are many reasons that a victim may choose not to fight off their perpetrator. Not fighting back might be their only chance to survive, especially if there is the threat of weapons or physical force. If the victim is threatened with negative consequences (e.g., loss of job, being “outed,” negative rumors), they might not fight back. Additionally, the victim may not be able to fight back, due to being physically overpowered, mentally/physically incapacitated, or experiencing symptoms of shock (“tonic immobility” or the inability to move is a very common reaction to assault). This does not mean the sex is consensual. The survivor needs to do whatever they need to do to cope with the situation and to survive.
Fact: Gay and straight men are victimized by people who rape for the same reasons as women. And transgender individuals and people who identify outside of the gender binary (e.g. genderqueer, genderfluid) face extremely high rates of sexual violence. One of the reasons this myth persists is that men, trans, and gender-nonconforming individuals are less likely than women to report a rape. Men are less likely to be believed by law enforcement personnel and face stigma and disbelief around experiences of rape, making it doubly traumatic to report.
Fact: An orgasm does not mean that someone “enjoyed” the rape, or that they wanted it in any way. An orgasm can be the body’s natural autonomous reaction to stimuli, even stimuli that someone can’t control. It does not mean that forced or coerced sexual activity was consensual or wanted. Often this myth or experience is used to silence, shame, and blame the survivor.
Fact: There are zero statistics that support the idea that LGBT individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexual males. In fact, sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual men.
Fact: In 93 percent of assaults, the rapist and victim are of the same race. In 3 percent of sexual assault cases black men did rape white women, while in 4 percent of the cases white men raped black women.
Fact: Women can and do rape men, although this is reportedly less common. The sexual assault of a man, whether by a woman or a man, is as serious of a violation as sexual assault of any survivor. Women also can sexual assault other women or gender-nonconforming individuals.