Misperception Intervention: 12 Sexual Assault Myths You Need to Know

Now, I’m not saying unicorns aren’t real, but there are some myths out there that perpetuate toxic stereotypes and need to be dispelled ASAP (#rapemyths). Here’s 12. Let’s breakdown this bullshit.

Myth #1: Most instances of sexual assault are perpetrated by strangers after dark, in secluded areas like alleys, carparks and footy ovals

How awesome would it be if the answer to sexual assault prevention was as simple as well-lit car parks and alley-ways? Whoo hoo! #winning! But alas, this myth is complete #bullshit. Well not completely; sexual assault can occur in these places, but statistically speaking women are far more likely to be assaulted by someone they know, often in their own homes, at the hands of a male current or former partner. The myth that we shouldn’t go out at night, could actually put us at further risk of being assaulted at home.  Also, while I’m at it, telling women that they shouldn’t go out at night in order to prevent sexual violence is shifting the responsibility for preventing sexual assault from the perpetrator, to the victim.

Myth #2: She was asking for it by the way she dressed/acted

A woman could literally walk down the street naked, drink herself stupid, be off her chops on drugs, be copiously flirting, be a sex addict, or even engaging in particular sexual acts and none of those things in any way would indicate that she wants to sexually assaulted. Nobody wants to be sexually assaulted and nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted.

This myth basically implies that if women don’t fulfil the expected gendered stereotype of being a “lady,” i.e. be timid; don’t dress too sexy; don’t have too much of an opinion; don’t get too drunk; and remember your purpose in life is to fulfil the needs of men, then they deserve to be abused.

News flash: women like to have sex. Women also like to dress sexy. But sex is about choice. You choose whether to have it, you choose WHO to have it with, and you choose how far to go with it. Sexual assault is non-consensual. People do not choose to be sexually assaulted. Sexual assault occurs when the perpetrator thinks he is entitled to a woman’s body. As if she owes him something. Women, don’t owe you shit, yo. Just because women like sex, or dress sexy, does not mean they are asking to be sexually assaulted.

The other edge of the sword of this myth, is that it implies if women do fulfil their expected stereotypical gender roles, that they’ll be safe- that they won’t fall prey to perpetrators of sexual assault. And it couldn’t be further from the truth. Perpetrators don’t discriminate. Sexual assault isn’t about sex, it’s about power and control. Saying she was asking for it by the way she was dressed or behaved, is just a perpetrator tactic to obfuscate responsibility. Don’t fall for it.

Oh! I also wanted to say that saying she was asking for it, also shifts the blame from the perpetrator, right on over to the victim, because if she was “asking for it,” then he can’t be held responsible.

Myth #3: When a man is sexually aroused, he cannot control his sexual urges; he must have sex

This is incredibly insulting (as are many rape myths), towards the vast majority of men who do not commit sexual assault. With one in five women being victims of sexual violence, there is no doubt that sexual violence is a problem of epidemic proportions. Studies have shown, however, that these offences are actually committed by a minority of repeat offenders. Most men do not commit sexual assault. Furthermore, if sexual assault was about a loss of control, then rapists would indiscriminately just rape everyone no matter where they are. But they don’t. They plan, they target, they decide, and they attack. They actively make a choice to assault somebody and they choose locations, times and targets that they perceive will make it easier to do and less likely to get caught. Sexual assault is all about power and control; it is not motivated by sexual gratification.

Myth #4: Women often lie about being sexually assaulted for attention, to get revenge, or because they regret having sex with someone

This myth is another great way of holding victims responsible for the actions of perpetrators- and let’s not forget that perpetrators are overwhelmingly men and victims are overwhelmingly women. So, at the heart of it, we don’t believe or trust women. This actually makes sense. If women are continually perceived as less than men, then why would we believe a woman over a man. If women are continually sexualised to the point of objectification, then they are just props- not real people, so why would we treat them as such?

The truth of the matter is that a false denial is far more common than a false allegation. Most victims of sexual assault never report the crime. A victim of sexual assault could choose not to report for a range of reasons, but one in particular is the fear that she won’t be believed, or that she will be blamed. But a recent 20-month investigation by the Globe and Mail found that even when women do report to authorities, police “decide” on average that 1 case in 5 is “unfounded,” meaning they choose not to believe the victim; decide the crime didn’t happen; close the file; and do not record the case as a statistic. This fascinating investigation gets to the heart about some of the barriers women face when reporting sexual assault, and they even developed a webpage for Canadian women considering reporting sexual assault, so they can put in their post-code and see the likeliness of whether or not their local police force will believe them, as rates between forces varied so incredibly across the country.

*Although a fascinating piece of investigative journalism, the article is a bit on the long-side, if you are feeling a bit time-poor, watch this short synopsis instead:

Unfounded: Police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as base…

The Globe discovered thousands of people across Canada are coming forward to police and reporting sexual assault. They just aren't being counted. From Robyn Doolittle. For the full investigation: tgam.ca/unfounded #Unfounded

Posted by The Globe and Mail on Friday, February 3, 2017

Myth #5: Rapists are abnormal or deranged

While, this would be a perfect way of excusing perpetrators from their actions, this myth is dangerous, because it makes us believe that the cause of sexual assault solely occurs as a result of dysfunction on an individual level. If we believe that, then we aren’t required to look at larger issues like #rapeculture, that create and sustain an environment where sexual assault can thrive. More to the point, rapists are primarily everyday people who are integrated into our community. Women are most likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know (usually current or former partners) and often in their own home. Rapists are people we know and often love. Thinking that only “abnormal” or “deranged” people are abusers, gives us a false sense of security and it provides protection for perpetrators; it hides them in plain sight.

Also, just a note: when people say “abnormal” or “deranged,” they are often referring to mental health issues, but haven’t necessarily been given the tools (like education about mental health) to be able to communicate this in a non-offensive way. Anyways, the point I want to make here is that 1 in 5 people will have a mental illness in their lifetime. To say that people commit sexual assault because they are mentally ill, is highly offensive to people with ill mental health who do not commit sexual assault offences.

Myth #6: If she was drunk or high then she shouldn’t complain about being raped; what did she expect?

Ummmm, sorry, but if you’re passed out, you can’t consent. This video based on a blog post by RockStar Dinosaur Pirate Princess, covers the issue perfectly:

Cuppa tea anyone?

The reality of this myth though is that it goes back to the view that women are sex “objects” as opposed to real living, breathing people. If they are just objects, then it doesn’t matter if they’re passed out or not, or give consent or not, because they don’t really have wants, needs or desires, right?

Myth #7: She didn’t fight back / doesn’t have injures to show for it, so she must’ve wanted it

Besides the fact that a rapist might use a weapon, or coercion in order to prevent a victim from fighting back, a common response to sexual assault is for the body to freeze. Just because she doesn’t have bruises or didn’t fight back, does not mean she wanted it and does not mean she deserved it. This is just another way of shifting the blame onto the victim.

Myth #8: People who were sexually abused as children become abusers themselves

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Pump the breaks, yo; this is another dangerous myth. The vast majority of people who are sexually assaulted do not go on to become perpetrators of sexual assault and the vast majority of people who commit sex offences have not been previously victimised.

All we can really say here is that sometimes people who have previously been sexually assaulted may go on to commit a sexual offence. This is what is called a risk factor. A risk factor is not the cause of the abuse, it is simply a contributing factor. There are many risk factors and some carry far more weight than others. For example, the fact that both women and men are predominately sexually assaulted by men, indicates that being a man is a far greater risk factor of committing a sexual offence, than a history of sexual abuse.

Risk factors (although often a point of contention amongst researchers) are important in terms of prevention strategies, but it’s more important to recognise that the risk factors are contributing factors, not direct causes. Just as being a man does not cause one to sexually assault others, either does previous victimhood.

Myth #9: Men don’t get raped

Although men are not sexually assaulted at the same rate as women, it still happens. 1 man in 22 is a victim of sexual assault (compared to 1 in 5 women).

Although rare, it isn’t unheard of for a woman to assault a man. What’s far more likely, however, is for a man to be assaulted by another man. Most perpetrators of sexual violence towards women and towards men, are other men.

Myth #10: Women don’t commit sexual offences

Women aren’t committing sexual offences to the epidemic proportions that men do. Their criminogenic patterns are more geared towards committing poverty-related offences like theft and drug-related offences. That said, it is still 100% in the realm of possibility for women to commit sex offences.

Myth #11: If a man gets an erection/ejaculates then it’s not rape

An erection and ejaculating are both physiological responses to stimuli; they are not synonymous with consent. Sexual activity without consent = sexual assault.

Myth #12: She’s had sex with him previously, so she must have wanted it again  

Nope! The notion that a person cannot sexually assault their partner or someone they’ve already had sex with is ridiculous. Just because you did something once, doesn’t mean you’re always up for it. Check out this comic by @allivanlahr from Everyday Feminism:

What other misperceptions have you heard of that need an intervention? Let me know in the comments below. Let’s #breakdownthebullshit

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