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Myth vs. Fact

Myth vs. Fact around the topic of Sexual Violence

The more we learn about rape and sexual assault, the more we realize how many of our attitudes are based on myths rather than facts. Myths about sexual violence are widespread and believed by men and women from all segments of society.

The best way to approach rape myths is to confront them honestly and frankly. Don’t deny their existence and don’t dismiss one ungrounded statement with another. Myths keep us from understanding that we can change these circumstances, that sexual violence is not inevitable.

  1. MYTH: Sexual assault does not occur very often.

    FACT: Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.

    Sexual assaults are very common. Most likely, someone close to you has been profoundly affected by sexual assault. Not only are victims reluctant to discuss their assaults, but many succeed in totally blocking the assault from conscious memory. However, the trauma remains and may come to the surface at another crisis or when the opportunity to discuss it with a sympathetic person arises.

  2. MYTH: Rape is sex.

    FACT: Rape is experienced by the victims as an act of violence. It is a life-threatening experience.

    One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Power, control, and anger are the primary motives. Most rapists have access to a sexual partner. Gratification comes from gaining power and control and discharging anger. This gratification is only temporary, so the rapist seeks another victim. It is the vulnerability of the victim that attracts the sexual predator.
  3. MYTH: Men rape women because that is men’s nature and biological role.

    FACT: There are many societies in which men never rape women.

    We now know that rape is not universal. Men rape women in some societies and under particular conditions, but not in all societies. There are connections between a high rate of rape, the glorification of violence, the objectification of women, the encouragement of tough and aggressive behavior in men, and the prevalence of war. That the rate of rape is high in some societies and low or nonexistent in others suggests that it is behavior that can be encouraged or discouraged.

    A recent study by David Lisak, Ph.D. and Paul M. Miller, Ph.D. (2002) indicates that what is actually happening is that some men rape and, of those men who rape, two-thirds of them commit “repeat rapes or attempted rapes, either against multiple victims or more than once against the same victim.” Most men do not rape and are actually uncomfortable with sexism and the inappropriate behavior of other men. (Berkowitz, 2002).
  4. MYTH: Only certain types of women get raped. It could never happen to me.

    FACT: Any woman can be raped.

    Rape can and does strike anyone at anytime. Age, social class, and/or ethnic group have no bearing on the person a rapist chooses to attack. Research data clearly proves that a way a woman dresses and/or acts does not influence the rapist’s choice of victims. The decision to rape is based on how easily the rapist thinks the target can be intimidated. Rapists are looking for available and vulnerable targets. Women are not raped because they “put themselves in a dangerous situation,” as is so frequently stated, or because they wore certain clothes, or because they followed a particular lifestyle. These aspects are highlighted only to further blame the victim and excuse the violent behavior of the aggressor.
  5. MYTH: Sexual assault usually occurs between strangers.

    FACT: Almost two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.

    Most rape victims know their attacker at least casually. In many cases, offenders were well known to the victim and were in relationships that one would normally trust, i.e., boyfriend, family friend, close neighbor, or relative.
  6. MYTH: Most rapes are reported by women who “change their minds” afterwards or who want to “get even” with a man.

    FACT: The large majority of women do not lie about being raped.

    FBI statistics show that only 3 percent of rape calls are false reports. This is the same false-report rate that is usual for other kinds of felonies. This myth is another variation on the theme of blaming the victim. It serves to increase hostility and suspicion toward women. One can find isolated cases of a woman lying about being raped, but this is not the norm. And such cases should not be confused with rapes that are not prosecuted; a lack of evidence for the district attorney to proceed is not the same as a lack of truth.

    Rape is the most underreported crime of all. Most keep it a private nightmare. Reporting a rape is especially difficult because very intimate details have to be shared.
  7. MYTH: Men cannot be raped.

    FACT: Men can be and are sexually assaulted.

    Sexual assault, no matter the gender of the perpetrator or victim, is a form of violence where sex is used to demean and humiliate another person. Current statistics indicate that one in six men are sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetime.

    Both men and women can sexually assault men. However, most sexual assaults against men are committed by other men, who actually identify themselves as heterosexual. It’s important not to jump to the conclusion that man-against-man sexual assault only happens between men who are gay. Sexual assault is not about sexual desire or sexual orientation; it’s about violence, control, and humiliation.

    There are different problems for men than for women after rape. Expectations around masculinity assume that rape is an impossibility. Gay men have particular fears about reporting, especially in conservative communities. It is important that male rape has been acknowledged. As more men are willing to talk about being raped and offer help to other male survivors, the trauma of the aftermath of rape for males will be eased.
  8. MYTH: Women don’t rape.

    FACT: Women are sometimes sexual aggressors.

    The invisibility of lesbian relationships and the romantic myths about women’s inherently gentle nature has made it difficult to accept the reality that women can force sex on their female partners or acquaintances. This myth also suggests that a woman could never sexually assault a male because of the difference in strength and power.
  9. MYTH: If the assailant, victim, or both are drunk, the assailant cannot be charged with rape.

    FACT: Rape is a crime.

    People who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are not considered free from guilt. Forcing someone to have sex if they are too drunk to give consent is rape in Pennsylvania. If both the assailant and the victim are drunk, it does not cancel out the fact that it was rape. The victim is never at fault for being raped, regardless of his/her level of intoxication. The responsibility falls squarely with the perpetrator.