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 shut 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.
MYTH: Victims cause the violence that has happened to them
FACT: It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing or how they are acting, no one asks to be raped. People who sexually assault often use force, threat, or injury. An absence of injuries does not indicate the victim consented.
MYTH: There is no reason for a victim not to report being raped to law enforcement
FACT: Rape is the least reported and convicted violent crime in the U.S. There are many reasons why victims may choose not to report to law enforcement or tell anyone about what happened to him/her. Some include:
- concern for not being believed
- fear of the attackers getting back at him/her
- embarrassment or shame
- fear of being blamed
- pressure from others not to tell
- distrust of law enforcement
- the belief that there is not enough evidence
- desire to protect the attacker
MYTH: Victims provoke sexual assaults when they dress provocatively or act in a promiscuous manner.
FACT: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence and control that stem from a person’s determination to exercise power over another. Forcing someone to engage in non-consensual sexual activity is sexual assault, regardless of the way that person dresses or acts.
MYTH: If a person goes to someone’s room, or house, or goes to a bar, he/she assumes the risk of sexual assault. If something happens later, he/she can’t claim that he/she was raped or sexually assaulted because he/she should have known not to go to those places.
FACT: This “assumption of risk” wrongfully places the responsibility of the offender’s actions on the victim. Even if a person went voluntarily to someone’s residence or room and consented to engage in some sexual activity, it does not serve as blanket consent for all sexual activity.
MYTH: It’s not sexual assault if it happens after drinking or taking drugs.
FACT: Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not an invitation for non-consensual sexual activity. A person under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not cause others to assault him/her; others choose to take advantage of the situation and sexually assault him/her because he/she is in a vulnerable position.
MYTH: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. It’s not rape if the people involved knew each other.
FACT: Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Among victims aged 18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the offender.
MYTH: Rape can be avoided if people avoid dark alleys or other “dangerous” places where strangers might be hiding or lurking.
FACT: Rape and sexual assault can occur at any time, in many places, to anyone.
MYTH: It’s only rape if the victim puts up a fight and resists.
FACT: There are many reasons why a victim of sexual assault would not fight or resist her attacker. She/he may feel that fighting or resisting will make her/his attacker angry, resulting in more severe injury.
MYTH: Sexual assault is often the result of miscommunication or a mistake.
FACT: Sexual assault is a crime, never simply a mistake. It does not occur due to a miscommunication between two people. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion.
MYTH: Sexual assault won’t happen to me or to anyone I know.
FACT: Men, women, and children of all ages, races, religions, and economic classes, and can be and have been, victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault occurs in rural areas, small towns, and larger cities. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a rape or attempted rape occurs every 5 minutes in the United States.
MYTH: Sexual assault is provoked by the victim’s actions, behaviors, or by the way they dress.
FACT: Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault. Sexual assault is a violent attack on an individual, not a spontaneous crime of sexual passion. For a victim, it is a humiliating and degrading act. No one “asks” for or caused their assailant to commit a crime against them.
MYTH: Most sexual assaults occur between strangers.
FACT: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows: a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner, or ex-partner. Studies show that approximately 80% of women reporting sexual assaults knew their assailant.
MYTH: Sexual assaults only occur in dark alleys and isolated areas.
FACT: A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes, cars, and offices.
MYTH: Women falsely accuse men of sexual assault or “cry rape.”
FACT: Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. FBI crime statistics indicate that only 2% of reported rapes are false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other major crime reports.
MYTH: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.
FACT: Men can be, and are, sexually assaulted. One in seventeen men is sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Sexual assault of men is thought to be greatly underreported. Any man can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, sexual orientation, or appearance.
MYTH: Most sexual assaults are interracial.
FACT: Almost all sexual assaults occur between members of the same race. Interracial rape is not common, but it does occur.
MYTH: People who commit sexual assaults are mentally ill, abnormal perverts.
FACT: Sexual offenders come from all educational, occupational, racial, and cultural backgrounds. They are “ordinary” and “normal” individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them and inflict violence, humiliation, and degradation.
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: A rape survivor will be battered, bruised, and hysterical.
FACT: Many rape survivors are not visibly injured. The threat of violence alone is often sufficient cause for a woman to submit to the rapist, to protect herself from physical harm. People react to crises in different ways. The reaction may range from composure to anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and suicidal feelings.
MYTH: “If you wouldn’t have been drinking, you wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.”
FACT: Alcohol is a weapon that some perpetrators use to control their victim and render them helpless. As part of their plan, an assailant may 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 many tools that perpetrators use.
MYTH: Serial rapists are uncommon.
FACT: Almost every perpetrator is a serial rapist, meaning that they choose to use coercion, violence, threats of force, etc., to assault people on a repeated basis.
MYTH: When women say no, they really mean yes.
FACT: Yes means yes! When someone says yes, s/he is explicitly giving consent. Silence does not equal consent. It is the responsibility of the person initiating or escalating sexual activity to gain consent at each and every level. 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 her/his wishes.
MYTH: If a person is aroused s/he is assaulted, then it is not really sexual assault.
FACT: Orgasm does not mean that someone “enjoyed” the sex, or that they wanted it. Orgasm can be a natural biological reaction that someone can’t control; it does not mean that forced or coerced sexual activity was consensual and often this is used to silence the survivor.
Source: The Blue Bench: What is Sexual Assault
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
Was it my fault?
Any type of sexual assault is against the law and it is considered a sexual offense. 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; is in a relationship with the perpetrator or has 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.
Can this happen to a man?
Sexual assault does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone and can be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of 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).
What common feelings and effects do victims/survivors experience?
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 are not limited to:
• Emotional shock
• Sense of vulnerability
• Physical stress
The most common mental health effects include, but are not limited to:
• Suicidal thoughts
• Low self-esteem
• Drug and alcohol addiction
• Borderline personality disorder
• Sleep disorders
• Eating disorders
• Psychotic disorders
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Sexual dysfunction
• Sexual promiscuity
• Social dysfunction
• Dysfunction of relationships (including parenting)
• Negative attributions
• Aggressive behaviors
• Conduct problems
• Learning problems
• 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 or 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.
Someone has disclosed to me about their experience of sexual assault, what should I do?
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 not to push them into doing what you think 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 judgment
• 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
• 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 talk about your own feelings.