The Truth vs The Myths About Sexual Assult
Note: The majority of victims of sexual assault are women and the majority of perpetrators are male,
but in all of the following pages the information refers equally to both sexes
as males are victims of sexual assault and females are perpetrators.
Myths about sexual assault persist, and they are damaging to survivors and dangerous in a civil society that needs to better understand sexual violence and its impact on our communities.
MYTH: Sexual assault is a crime of passion and lust.
FACT: Sexual assault is a crime of violence. Assailants seek to dominate, humiliate and punish their victims.
MYTH: When an individual commits rape it’s because he/she is ‘turned on’ and has uncontrollable sexual urges.
FACT: Forcing someone to engage in a sexual act against his/her will is an act of violence and aggression. The perpetrator is using sex as a weapon to gain power and control over the other person. Desires may be beyond your control, but your actions are within your control. Sexual excitement does not justify forced sex.
MYTH: You cannot be assaulted against your will.
FACT: 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 to isolate her.
MYTH: It is impossible for a husband to sexually assault his wife.
FACT: One in every seven married women will be forced to have sex by her husband. It is a myth that any human being has sexual rights to another human being regardless of their legal relationship to one another. Regardless of marital or social relationship, if a woman does not consent to sexual activity, she is being sexually assaulted.
MYTH: A person who has really been assaulted will be hysterical.
FACT: 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: Sexual assault is an impulsive act.
FACT: Seventy-five percent of all assaults are planned in advance. When three or more assailants are involved, 90% are planned. If two assailants are involved, 83% are planned. With one assailant, 58% are planned.
MYTH: Assailants are usually crazed psychopaths who do not know their victims.
FACT: As many as 80% of all assaults involve acquaintances. An assailant might be someone you know intimately. He may be a co-worker, a friend or a family member.
MYTH: Gang rape is rare.
FACT: In 43% of all reported cases, more than one assailant was involved.
MYTH: Many women claim that they have been sexually assaulted because they want revenge upon the man they accuse.
FACT: Only 1-2% of sexual assault cases are based on false accusation. This percentage of unsubstantiated cases is the same as with many other reported crimes.
MYTH: Persons who dress or act in a “sexy” way are asking to be sexually assaulted. If a woman drinks, goes up to a room with a guy or wears provocative clothing, she carries some responsibility for the rape.
FACT: Rape is the only crime in which our society attempts to blame the victim. While it is always important to take precautions, bad judgement is not a rapeable offence. It is the rapist who makes a choice to commit a crime. 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.
MYTH: In most cases, black men attack white women.
FACT: In most sexual assault cases, the assailant and his victim are of the same racial background.
MYTH: Only young, pretty women are assaulted.
FACT: 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: It is impossible to sexually assault a man and anyway males should be able to prevent their rape.
FACT: Same sex assault does occur, but it estimated that less than 1% of men report their rapes. Same sex assault is typically more physically violent than opposite sex assault and there is usually more than one assailant and use of a weapon. Many people mistakenly believe that men should be able to prevent the assault by putting up a fight. The belief is that if a man failed to fight off an attack he is weak. No rape victim – male or female, gay or straight – should be judged for failure to stop an assault. Rapists use violence and the threat of violence to over-power victims. Men fall victim for the same reasons as women: threats or acts of physical and emotional violence overwhelm them and take away their control and power.
MYTH: Men who rape other men are homosexual.
FACT: 96% of rapists are heterosexual and only 4% of same sex assaults are homosexual assaults.
MYTH: If the victim is homosexual or had an erection during the assault, he enjoyed it.
FACT: No one asks to be raped! And it is important to understand that sexual response is automatic and not within the victim’s control – just because his body reacted sexually does not mean he enjoyed the abuse.
MYTH: As long as children remember to stay away from strangers, they are in no danger of being assaulted.
FACT: Sadly, children are usually assaulted by acquaintances, a family member or other care-taking adult. Children are usually coerced into sexual activity by their assailant, and are manipulated into silence by the assailant’s threats and/or promises, as well as their own feelings of guilt.
MYTH: Sexual violence can sometimes be the victim’s fault.
FACT: Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault. This mistaken belief holds that people “ask” to be sexually assaulted through their actions or dress. In fact, studies demonstrate that most sexual assaults are planned in advance, making these factors irrelevant. For a victim, it is a humiliating and degrading act. No one “asks” for or deserves this type of attack. It doesn’t matter if the victim was dressed seductively, drinking or using drugs, out at night alone, homosexual, on a date with the perpetrator, etc. – no one asks to be raped. The responsibility and blame lie with the perpetrator, never with the victim.
MYTH: If there are no injuries it wasn’t rape.
FACT: The absence of injuries often suggests to others that the victim failed to resist and, therefore, must have consented. Often, rapists only need the threat of violence to control their victims. They also sometimes use “date rape” drugs to incapacitate their victims. Some victims submit to the assault for fear of greater harm. Submitting does not mean the victim gave consent. Each rape victim does whatever he/she needs to do at the time in order to survive.
MYTH: Usually the assault is carried out by a stranger on a dark deserted street.
FACT: Generally sexual assault is committed by someone known to the person (such as a friend, lover, ex-lover etc) and often times the attack happens in the house of the victim or the offender. Rape can occur any time and anywhere. Only 1 in 10 rapes occur outside, while 4 out of 10 take place at the victim’s own home and more than half occur within a short distance of the victim’s home.
MYTH: Sexual assault only involves physical, and not verbal, coercion.
FACT: Threats, tone of voice, or strong insistence from the male can be intimidating and make the woman feel as if she has to submit to having sex. Examples of verbal coercion include: “I’ll tell people that you are a lesbian if you don’t have sex with me.”, “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me.”, and “I’m really interested in having a committed relationship with you”, when in fact, one has no intentions of committing to the relationship.
MYTH: If a woman is drunk or under the influence of drugs and says “yes” to sexual intercourse, this is consent.
FACT: True consent can only be legally given when one is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
MYTH: It’s not your fault if you force someone to have sex or don’t get consent when you’re drunk.
FACT: Medically, a man cannot get an erection at a level of intoxication in which he does not understand the consequences of his actions. Furthermore, being drunk is not a legal defence for any other crime.
MYTH: If a woman has an orgasm, it is not rape.
FACT: Orgasm is a physiological reaction and is no indication of consent. Many survivors feel as though their bodies have betrayed them when this happens; however, it is simply our body’s natural reaction.
MYTH: It’s only sexual assault if physical violence or weapons are used.
FACT: Often, rapists only need the threat of violence to control their victims. They also sometimes use “date rape” drugs to incapacitate their victims. Submitting does not mean the victim gave consent. Each rape victim does whatever he/she needs to do at the time in order to survive. Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature imposed by one person upon another. The Criminal Code definition of sexual assault includes a number of acts ranging from unwanted sexual touching, to sexual violence resulting in wounding, maiming or endangering the life of the victim.
MYTH: Sexual assault is a “spontaneous” attack.
FACT: Seventy-one percent (71%) of all sexual assault are planned. The offender intends to sexually assault someone, often times someone specific.
MYTH: If a woman has consented to have sex with a partner in the past then she has consented to future sexual intercourse.
FACT: If a women has consented to have sex with her partner it does not mean she will consent to future sexual intercourse. A woman has the right to decide if sexual intercourse will occur every time she is with her partner. A “yes” one night does not mean a “yes” all other nights.
MYTH: 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: “It can’t happen to me.”
FACT: Yes, it can. Sexual violence can happen to anyone-regardless of gender, race, age, socio-economic status, or religion. Victims of sexual assault include infants, people in their eighties, people of colour, lesbians/gays, individuals with disabilities, women, and men. It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. Most victims are shocked that it could have happened to them, sadly it can happen to anyone.
MYTH: If a child I know was being sexually abused, he/she would tell me right away.
FACT: Because they are confused by the abuse, feel responsible, or are being threatened by the abuser, children don’t automatically tell a parent. In fact, one study found that most disclosures from sexually abused children were accidental.
Be sure to talk frequently and openly about sexual abuse with your child. The more they know and the more comfortable they feel talking to you, the more willing they may be to report sexual abuse.
MYTH: Many times a woman will pretend she doesn’t want to have sex because she doesn’t want to seem loose, but she’s really hoping the man will force her.
FACT: Although some women may have difficulty communicating clearly about their sexual intentions, no woman wants to be forced to have sex against her will.
MYTH: Some women fantasise about being raped.
FACT: Fantasies about domination or rape are very different to actual rape. Actual rape is when a person is forced against their will and they have no control. Fantasies, even of domination does not involve loosing control. In fact the very nature of a fantasy is that your mind is in control of what you are imagining. No person wants to have their control taken away, no person wants to have no power, no person wants to be forced to do something they do not want to do.
MYTH: If the people are dating, it’s not rape.
FACT: Rape is rape, no matter what the relationship is between the victim and perpetrator. Rape is not just committed by strangers in dark alleys. Everyone has the right to change their mind – even about sex. One form of sexual contact does not necessarily open the door to other sexual activity. Even if the two have had sex before, the perpetrator does not have the right to force sex on the victim. There are many ways a person can be forced into sexual activity. Sometimes perpetrators use physical force or a weapon, but more often they use coercion, manipulation, or psychological pressure.
MYTH: Most rapes are committed by strangers.
FACT: It is a common misconception that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. You are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know-a friend, date, classmate, neighbour, relative-than by a stranger in a dark alley. Familiar people and places are often more dangerous. It is estimated that almost 70% of all rape and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Rape victims transcend the boundaries of race, class, age, and appearance. There is no set formula; it can happen to anyone.
MYTH: I don’t go to unsafe places, so I will be never be raped.
FACT: Nearly 6 out of 10 rape/sexual assault incidents occurred in the victim’s home or at the home of a friend, relative or neighbour.
MYTH: “Talking about it only makes it worse.”
FACT: Allowing survivors to discuss sexual abuse/assault helps them heal. Speaking out about sexual assault is an essential part of the recovery process. It empowers the survivor to erase the shame and stop the silence of sexual violence. However, no survivor should be forced to speak, publicly or privately, before they are ready. Every survivor is the expert on his or her own recovery. For many, recovery becomes an ongoing process of change that may continue for 1, 5, or 20 years.
MYTH: Women who drink are asking to be raped.
FACT: No one asks to be raped. Alcohol does play a role in the prevalence of sexual assault: 75% of male perpetrators and 55% of female victims in the Koss survey said they were drinking at the time of the attack. BUT, the intoxication of either party is never an excuse to force someone to have sex. Medically, a man cannot get an erection at a level of intoxication in which he does not understand the consequences of his actions. Furthermore, being drunk is not a legal defence for any other crime. Rape is the only crime in which our society attempts to blame the victim. While it is always important to take precautions, bad judgement is not a rapeable offence. It is the rapist who makes a choice to commit a crime. Nothing a person does or does not do causes a brutal crime like sexual assault.
MYTH: Domestic violence usually only happens in married couples.
FACT: As many as one-third of all high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship. Physical abuse is as common among high school and college-age couples as married couples.
MYTH: Boyfriends and girlfriends sometimes push each other around when they get angry, but it rarely results in anyone getting seriously hurt.
FACT: Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 to 44. Of the women murdered each year, 30% are killed by their current or former husband or boyfriend.
MYTH: Most people will end a relationship if their boyfriend or girlfriend hits them.
FACT: Nearly 80% of girls who have been physically abused in their intimate relationships continue to date their abuser after the onset of violence.
MYTH: People abuse their partners because they can’t control their anger.
FACT: People who abuse others are not usually out of control. They do it to gain power and control over the other person. They often use tactics besides violence such as threats, intimidation, psychological abuse and isolation from friends or family to control their partners.
MYTH: People who abuse are psychos/crazy.
FACT: Abusers are normal people that we encounter in everyday life. They can be the smartest, quietest, coolest, or the best athlete on campus. What they have in common is their inability to control their anger and aggressive impulses.
MYTH: If a person is really being abused, it is easy just to leave.
FACT: There are many very complicated reasons why it is difficult for a person to leave an abusive partner. One very common reason is fear; women who leave their abusers are at a 75% greater chance of being killed by the abuser than those who stay.
MYTH: Relationship abuse happens most often among the poor and people of colour.
FACT: Abuse in relationships happens amongst all classes, races, and cultural groups in society.
MYTH: Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.
FACT: While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are paedophiles.
MYTH: If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
FACT: In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child’s sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. “You liked it, you wanted it,” they’ll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.
MYTH: Boys are less traumatised by the abuse experience than girls.
FACT: While some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be more damaged by society’s refusal or reluctance to accept their victimisation, and by their resultant belief that they must “tough it out” in silence.
MYTH: Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.
FACT: While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. It is unlikely that someone can make another person a homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual. Whether perpetrated by older males or females, boys’ or girls’ premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways, including confusion about one’s sexual identity and orientation. Many boys who have been abused by males erroneously believe that something about them sexually attracts males, and that this may mean they are homosexual or effeminate. Again, not true. Paedophiles who are attracted to boys will admit that the lack of body hair and adult sexual features turns them on. The paedophile’s inability to develop and maintain a healthy adult sexual relationship is the problem – not the physical features of a sexually immature boy.
MYTH: Boys, who are sexually abused, go on to sexually abuse others.
FACT: This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help. While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. Research by Jane Gilgun, Judith Becker and John Hunter found a primary difference between perpetrators who were sexually abused and sexually abused males who never perpetrated: non-perpetrators told about the abuse, and were believed and supported by significant people in their lives. Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don’t perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young
MYTH: If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.
FACT: In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.
Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging.
So long as society believes these myths, and teaches them to children from their earliest years, sexually abused males and females will be unlikely to get the recognition and help they need.
So long as people who have been sexually abused believe these myths, they will feel ashamed and angry.
And so long as sexually abused males and females believe these myths they reinforce the power of another devastating myth that all abused children struggle with: that it was their fault. It is never the fault of the child in a sexual situation – though perpetrators can be quite skilled at getting their victims to believe these myths and take on responsibility that is always and only their own. It is never the fault of the adult victim, the blame lies on the perpetrator who choose to abuse.
For anyone who has been sexually abused, becoming free of these myths is an essential part of the recovery process.