M & F – Q & A

There are many misconceptions about sexual assault that are both commonly accepted and continuously perpetuated in today’s society. These beliefs place blame on survivors while minimizing the responsibility of the offender and the seriousness of the crime. As a result, survivors of sexual assault are often left feeling isolated and ashamed without the support they need to begin to heal.

Understanding the facts and dispelling myths surrounding sexual assault is crucial to ensuring that survivors are treated with respect and receive the support and services they need.  A few may be duplicated.  Hard for me to proofread because of PTSD.

Common Misconceptions

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 causes 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 between 2% and 10% 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. Sexual assault of men is thought to be greatly under-reported. 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 victims 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, she 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 when 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.

MYTH: The reason that men get raped is because homosexual men are raping them, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals rape more or are more likely to be sex offenders than heterosexuals.
FACT: There are no statistics that support the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexuals. In fact, sex offenders
are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual men.

MYTH: It is OK to pressure or talk someone into sexual activity.
FACT: No! This falls into the category of coercion. Coercion is a tactic used to intimidate trick or force someone to have sex with him or her without physical force.

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 offense. Nobody has the right to force someone into sex, or any unwanted act of a 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 happens, 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 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 are 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 are 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 behaviors
• 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 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.

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
• 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 talk about your own feelings.