In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I will be discussing rape myths. If you google “rape myths,” you’ll come across a plethora of sites. I took these myths and realities from Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault website because I think they did a pretty good job of explaining the myths and realities of rape. The notes in parentheses are my own.
Myth: Rape is an impulsive, uncontrollable act of passion. The victim is irresistible to the rapist.
Reality: Rape is an act of violence, not of sexual desire. The majority of rapes are planned: the place arranged, enticement used, or the victim deliberately sought and coerced into sexual relations. It is the vulnerability of the victim that attracts the perpetrator. Victims range from infants to the elderly. Anyone regardless of age, gender, physical appearance, marital status, ethnicity, religious, or socioeconomic background can be raped.
Myth: Sexual assault occurs only in large cities.
Reality: Rapes have been reported across the country—in large cities and small towns. While more sexual assaults occur in large cities, this is due solely to a greater population. Victims who live in rural areas may not have the same anonymity in a small town and access to services that she would have in a larger community. Survivors of sexual violence in these communities may therefore be less likely to tell anyone, report it to the police, or seek support. (I live in a rural area and trust me, sexual assault is no stranger here).
Myth: Women are sexually assaulted when they are out alone at night. If women stay at home, they will be safe.
Reality: Studies show that the majority of sexual assaults are committed in either the victim’s home or the offender’s home.
Myth: Most rapists hide in dark alleys, waiting for a stranger to walk past.
Reality: The majority of reported rapes occur either in the victim’s home or the home of the perpetrator. In many cases, the victim met the offender in a public place and then was coerced into accompanying the rapist to the place of assault. Most rape victims know their attacker at least casually. In many cases, perpetrators were well known to the victim and were in relationship that one would normally trust (e.g., boyfriend, family friend, close neighbor, or relative).
Myth: Most sexual assaults involve a black man raping a white woman.
Reality: In 93% of assaults, the rapist and victim are of the same race. In 3.3% of sexual assault cases, black men did rape white women, while in 3.4% of the cases, white men raped black women.
Myth: Most rapists are poor.
Reality: Rape crosses all class lines. People have been raped by doctors, lawyers, police officers, and other authority figures. Because of their social and financial positions, these offenders are seldom prosecuted for the acts of violence, and their actions are seldom publicized. (An example is the Catholic sex abuse cases that have gained the attention of the community and media).
Myth: No person can be sexually assaulted against his/her will.
Reality: Rape is a crime of violence, not sexual passion. In many cases, some type of force is used, such as strangling, beating, roughness, or use of a weapon. Often, the victim is threatened with death if he or she resists. Confronted with the fear of being beaten or killed, many victims do not attempt to fight an attacker. While a victim may not resist an attack due to socialization or fear of violence, this lack of resistance should not be equated with consent for the attack. Many mugging victims hand over their wallets willingly to maintain their safety, but they did not ask to be mugged.
Myth: Sexual assault is provoked by the victim. Victims ask for it by their actions, behaviors, or by the way they dress.
Reality: To say that someone wants to be raped is the same as saying that people ask to be mugged or robbed. In fact, most rapes are at least partially planned in advanced and the victim is often threatened with death or bodily harm if he/she resists. Sexual assault is not a spontaneous crime of passion. It is a violent attack on an individual using sex as a weapon. Sex is used to defile, degrade, and destroy a victim’s will and control over his or her own body. For the victim, it is a humiliating, near death situation. No person would ask for or deserve such an attack.
Myth: Only “bad” girls get sexually assault (This is something I hear so frequently. “I only hang out with good people, so nothing will happen to me. I’m a good girl”).
Reality: Sexual assault occurs in all segments of our society. Most rapists choose their targets without regard to physical appearance or lifestyle. Victims are of every type, race, and socioeconomic class, young and old alike.
Myth: Most rapes are reported by women who “change their minds” afterward or who want to “get even” with a man.
Reality: FBI statistics show that only 3% of rape calls are false reports. This is the same false-report rate that is usual for other kinds of felonies.
Myth: Women have rape fantasies and secretly desire rape. If you are going to be raped, you might as well relax and enjoy it.
Reality: When people have sexual fantasies of seduction, they choose the circumstances and the characteristics of their seducer. They are in control. In rape, the victim is never in control. There is a big difference between fantasy and reality. Rape is neither relaxing nor enjoyable. Again, victims often submit without struggle due to fear of physical force, or because the perpetrator is armed with a deadly weapon.
Myth: Rapists are crazy, deranged, abnormal perverts. They are lonely men without female partnership.
Reality: Rape is not a crime of spontaneous passion. Studies show that 60-70% of all sexual assaults are planned. Most rapists are married and having consensual sexual relations while assaulting other women. Rapists themselves do not describe their motivation in terms of sexual gratification, but in terms of hatred and conquest. Sex is used as a weapon to inflict violence, humiliation, and degradation on a victim. Indeed, rapists have said that rape is “lousy sex.” Sexual offenders come from all educational, occupational, racial, and cultural backgrounds. They tend to test differently from the normal, well-adjusted male only in having a greater tendency to express violence and rage.
Myth: Men cannot be raped.
Reality: Sexual assault, no matter the gender of the perpetrator or victim, is a form of violence where sex is used to demean and humiliate another person. Current statistics indicate that 1 in 33 men are sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetime. Typically, the perpetrator is a heterosexual male. Sexual assault or males is thought to be greatly under-reported.
Additional rape myths and realities:
Myth: If you have an orgasm during sexual assault, then it’s not rape.
Reality: An orgasm is the body’s involuntary response to sexual stimulation. Having an orgasm during rape does not mean that you consented it, welcomed it, or enjoyed it. It just means that your body responded to the sexual act.
Myth: It’s not rape if it’s not violent, you didn’t resist, or the perpetrator didn’t hold you down.
Reality: Most sexual assaults are not violent. Sometimes, a victim can be too intoxicated or unconscious to consent or resist. And even if he/she were conscious, he/she may be threatened with bodily harm or death to comply to the sexual assault.
Myth: It’s not rape if it’s with your partner/spouse.
Reality: No means no, regardless of who it’s with. No means no, regardless of how many times you’ve had sexual intercourse with that person. No means no. PERIOD. You are not obligated to give up your body for sex just because you have an intimate romantic relationship with that person.
Myth: It’s not rape unless the person says no.
Reality: The absence of no does not mean yes. A person cannot legally give consent if they are intoxicated, sleeping, or unconscious.
Please leave other sexual assault myths and realities down below in the comment section.
*The terms rape and sexual assault are used interchangeably in this blog entry.