M & F – Q & A

Myths and Facts about rape and sexual assault.

Myth: You can spot a rapist by the way he looks or acts.

Fact: There’s no surefire way to identify a rapist. Many seem completely normal, friendly, charming, and non-threatening.

Myth: If you didn’t fight back, you must not have thought it was that bad.

Fact: During a sexual assault, it’s extremely common to freeze. Your brain and body shuts down in shock, making it difficult to move, speak, or think.

Myth: People who are raped “ask for it” by the way they dress or act.

Fact:Rape is a crime of opportunity. Studies show that rapists choose victims based on their vulnerability, not on how sexy they seem or how flirtatious they are.

Myth: Date rape is often a misunderstanding.

Fact: Date rapists often defend themselves by claiming the assault was a drunken mistake or miscommunication. But research shows that the vast majority of date rapists are repeat offenders. These men target vulnerable people and often ply them with alcohol to rape them.

Myth: It’s not rape if you’ve had sex with the person before.

Fact: Just because you’ve previously consented to sex with someone doesn’t give them perpetual rights to your body. If your spouse, boyfriend, or lover forces sex against your will, it’s rape.

Common Questions and Answers about rape and sexual assault.

What is consent?

Everyone has the right to say ‘no’ to sex, to withdraw or withhold their consent for any sexual act, on any occasion and under any circumstances, regardless of whether they’ve given consent to sex with that person in the past and regardless of whether they’re in a relationship with the other person. Sex without consent is rape.

According to section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, someone consents when she or he “agrees by choice…and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”

There are no grey areas when it comes to consent such as:

  • If someone is under the age of 16, they don’t legally have the capacity to consent to sex.
  • If someone is asleep or unconscious, they don’t have the capacity to consent.
  • If they’ve been kidnapped or held against their will, they don’t have the freedom to consent

Any type of sexual assault is against the law and it is considered a sexual offence. Nobody has the right to force someone into sex, or any unwanted act of sexual nature without their consent, and it is important for the victim to understand that it was not their fault if this happened to them.

Many people believe that in some cases they contributed to the abuse and they are to blame, even partially, for what happened. This often happens when the person had been drinking alcohol or taking drugs when of the abuse; are in a relationship with the perpetrator or have had a sexual relationship, including kissing or touching, with them prior to the abuse; we’re with people of the same sex and don’t want to report such detail to the police or friends and family; we’re not able to say no, did not fight back or left the relationship; cannot really remember what happened due to different reasons, including trauma.

No matter what happened, only one person makes the choice to do sexual violence, and it is the abuser, not the victim. It is never the victim’s fault and there are no excuses for sexual violence.

Sexual assault does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone and can be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of their age, social background, gender, religion, sexual identity, race, culture, ethnicity or disability.

Worldwide statistics show that one in four women and one in six men will experience sexual assault at some stage in their lifetime but at the same time, researchers do believe that official statistics vastly under-represent the number of male sexual violence victims. The evidence suggests that men might be less likely to report any form of sexual assault to the police due to many reasons including shame, fear of not being believed, guilt, several issues related to the idea of masculinity, personal reasons (e.g. do not want to reveal the sex of the perpetrator) or security reasons (e.g. fear of being prosecuted).

Everyone reacts to sexual assault in different ways. Children and adults may experience similar feelings and effects, but there are some emotions and reactions that are more common in one case or another. Men and LGBTQ+ people who have experienced sexual violence can also go through emotional patterns which are usually uncommon to other victims. All feelings and effects might be general, episodic or chronic.

The most common feelings and emotions include, but not limited to:

• Emotional shock
• Disbelief
• Denial
• Shame
• Guilt
• Depression
• Powerlessness
• Responsibility
• Betrayal
• Sadness
• Disorientation
• Flashbacks
• Fear
• Anxiety
• Anger
• Loneliness
• Weakness
• Sense of vulnerability
• Physical stress

The most common mental health effects include, but not limited to:

• Suicidal thoughts
• Self-harm
• Dissociation
• Low self-esteem
• Drug and alcohol addiction
• Borderline personality disorder
• Sleep disorders
• Eating disorders
• Schizophrenia
• Psychotic disorders
• Grief
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Sexual dysfunction
• Sexual promiscuity
• Social dysfunction
• Dysfunction of relationships (including parenting)
• Helplessness
• Negative attributions
• Aggressive behaviours
• Conduct problems
• Learning problems
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Becoming a perpetrator

Coping with the effects of domestic violence and sexual assault can be very difficult and victims/survivors might find themselves dealing with one of more feelings at the same time. It is usually common for them to experience an array of emotions which may cause even more anxiety, anger or confusion. There is no ‘right way’ to react to these experiences, and self-care, as well as external support, might be beneficial.

It is not always easy to know how to respond to someone who has told you they have experienced or have been experiencing a form of sexual violence, and you may not know how best to respond. It is important for you to acknowledge that there is no right reaction to hearing that someone you care about has been affected by sexual assault.

Your first aim should always be that of supporting the victim, but you also need to be careful in not pushing them into doing what you think it would be best for them to do. Listening is the most valuable and important thing you can do at first, as well as trying to understand the support the victim might need. Other practical things you can do to help are:

• Avoid judgement
• Believe them
• Never assume that the violence is not serious
• Do your research on what victims/survivors might experience
• Do your research on which type of support is available
• Ask for professional advice
• Help them explore options
• Give them the choice
• Remind them it is not their fault
• Remind them that they are not alone and you are there for them
• Remind them that they can trust you

You may also be affected and experiencing a range of intense and difficult emotions yourself, including:

• Anger – at yourself, at the person, at the perpetrator
• Grief
• Confusion
• Anxiety
• Sadness
• Disbelief
• Guilt – for not being able to prevent what happened
• Wanting revenge

Self-care strategies and coping skills can help you move through these feelings and it can be just as important for you to seek support and to talk about your own feelings.