Sexual Assault Myths
There are many misconceptions regarding sexual assault. The following was compiled by and is published courtesy of the University of Virginia, gleaning from the U.S. Department of Justice Studies.
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Fact: Somewhere between one in six and one in 10 males are sexually assaulted — mostly by heterosexual men. Another misconception is male victims must be gay. Most males are assaulted as children. Young heterosexual men have reported being coerced or forced into have intercourse with women. It's not unusual for gay men to be assaulted on dates. Also, hate violence against gays is on the rise. Like assaults against women, this is a crime of power and violence.
Research-Based Thinking: Just because I am a male doesn't mean I cannot be sexually assaulted. I can also help male survivors, as with female, by talking about the issue in an inclusive way, avoiding the presumption that all survivors are female, and assuming all male victims are gay.
Fact: Most rapes are planned. Yet, most acquaintance rapists — even those who are now serving time in jail — do not admit that forcing women to have sex against their will or when they're unable to consent, is rape. Naivete, poor judgment, shyness, even reckless behavior is not a crime. Rape is.
Sexual assault is the only crime where the relationship between the parties is deemed relevant and the victim's prior behavior is considered provocation. This is not the case in grand theft (even if you left a Rolls Royce in a poverty-stricken area of town) or assault and battery (unless, again, a woman is battered by her mate.)
Research-Based Thinking: I have choices. One avoidance strategy, and way to enhance my ability to resist sexual assault, is to be in control of my judgment and faculties at all times. If I choose to drink or do drugs, I will plan ahead so that a trusted friend can keep an eye on me at parties, or know when I plan to return from a date.
Fact: No one asks a robbery victim to "relax and enjoy it." Rape is violence using sex as a weapon. Survivors of sexual violence feel very clearly that rape and consensual sex are worlds apart. Rape involves persistent pressure, taking advantage of a person's inability to say "no", calculated drugging with alcohol or other substances. It can even involve threats, sometimes against the women's life, or her livelihood, or academic career, or even family members or friends. Many survivors recall being in fear of their lives, even if a weapon was not present. Rape often involves more than "simple" sexual intercourse: assault with foreign objects, sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, "train" or gang rape, physical and verbal abuse and forced "slave" behavior (cooking meals, etc.) In Los Angeles, rape hotline calls revealed the average length of a rape was 3.5 hours.
Research-based Thinking: Rape is a crime for which the perpetrator has responsibility. By understanding that rape is rape, regardless of the relationship between the parties, and regardless of the behavior of the survivor, the focus will stay on the perpetrator's behavior, not the victim's. Also, if I am assaulted, this knowledge will help me avoid self-blame and self-enforced shame, as well as empower me to seek help or report this crime.
Fact: According to a judge of the New York State Supreme Court, false rape charges are not frequently made. Only about 2 percent of all rape and related sex charges are determined to be false — the same as other felonies. FBI statistics support this as well. False claims of auto theft are reported more frequently than those of rape.
Research-Based Thinking: By educating others about this misconception, I will be helping create a safer climate that allows survivors' voices to be heard.
Fact: There is nothing about rapists' appearances that distinguishes them from others. Rapists come from all races, ethnic or socioeconomic groups. They can be large, small, able-bodied or disabled and married or single. What we do know is rapists almost always identify as heterosexual, even if their victims are male, and they rarely go to jail the first time. In fact, studies of adolescent offenders indicate most begin committing sexual assaults when they are very young.
Research-Based Thinking: Although I must rely on my own wits and skills. It's not my fault if I am assaulted.
Fact: Only about 5 percent of all rapists fall into the psychopathic category. The rest have other motivations of power or anger. Most pick out potential victims they believe may be good targets without a fight. They actually may even test these women non-verbally or verbally before determining whether or not to attack. Two recent studies of rape avoidance behavior has shown that the more options a woman knows, the more psychologically ready she is to resist. Both verbal and physical resistance may actually lessen the severity of injury in some instances. What is most important to remember is that no one can tell another person what is right or wrong in a dangerous situation. Only s/he knows her/his own abilities, can assess the assailant's behavior, and can determine what the possibilities are. Knowing their options may prevent feeling paralyzed by fear, and may also help the survivor understand that submission is also a viable a form of self-protection.
Research-Based Thinking: I understand that the only person who can determine the strategy to use in any given situation is the person in it. Learning strategies to reduce my risk of assault, and the options I may have if assaulted, will help me feel strong and self-reliant. Even if I never need to use what I learn, I will be a better, more self-assured person for knowing this.
Myth: Most assailants do this because they are desperate for sex.
Fact: Most perpetrators, according to recent studies, have "normal" relationships with women, are often in long-term relationships, married and have children — regardless of the gender of their victims. What we are now learning is that most assailants were themselves victimized as children.
Research-Based Thinking: By understanding that rapists live normal lives, I will not assume that a person is innocent of assault based on appearances.
Fact: Any woman of any age, race, class, religion, occupation, physical ability, sexual identity or appearance can be raped; rape is a very "democratic" form of violence. Four-month old infants and women in their 90s, women dressed for arctic chill and in bikinis have been sexually assaulted. Recent studies indicate one in five women will be sexually assaulted in this country, including one in four college women.
Research-based Thinking: I understand that just because I am of a certain race, class, gender, ethnic or religious group, I have no special protections against sexual assault. Rape can happen to me and people I know.
Myth: Most assaults occur as spontaneous acts in dark alleys.
Fact: Approximately 80 percent of rapes are wholly or partially planned. About 50 percent occur in either the victim's or assailant's home. Others occur in areas an assailant has staked out on a regular basis, such as grocery store parking lots, offices, libraries, jogging trails, laundry rooms — in other words, wherever women are in the world. As more survivors speak out about their assaults, we are also learning that close to 80 percent of all sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances. This can range from someone known to them only by sight to individuals with whom they are very close: a best friend, a lover, or husband. Even adolescent or adult male survivors are primarily assaulted by acquaintances — usually other men, but sometimes women as well.
Research-Based Thinking: While it is important to be aware of my surroundings at night, assaults can occur during daylight hours in safe places. It is important that I pay attention to my instincts about the behavior of people I do and don't know. Also, if a friend is behaving in a way that offends or bothers me, I am within my rights to confront him/her and even walk away if necessary.