There are many myths about the crime of rape and sexual assault which make things harder for victims who have experienced rape or sexual assault to disclose the incident/s and seek help. These myths are dangerous because they hide the truth and leave many people who have suffered rape and sexual abuse to cope with the assault alone and in silence.
Myths about rape are all about moving the responsibility for the crime from the perpetrator to the victim. Rape and sexual assault are about power and violence, not sex. The majority of sexual assaults are planned carefully and are not committed because of uncontrollable sexual urges.
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Myth – Those who rape are sick or not normal.
Fact – It is rare for rapists to be diagnosed with a mental illness. There are stereotypes of rapists as people who are unable to lead normal lives. The reality is that rapists are ‘normal’ men: husbands, partners, neighbours, work colleagues etc. It is difficult for someone to call this person a rapist because they will feel disbelief about what happened and also feel that they won’t be believed by others. Rapists are ordinary people, many are highly respected members of the community and in 1980 in England and Wales, only 2% of convicted rapists were considered to be in need of psychiatric treatment.
Myth – Rape is a crime of sexual needs or uncontrollable urges.
Fact – People can, and do, control their sexual urges. Rape is a crime of violence, control, degradation and intimidation. It is not about sex but about power. The vast majority of rapes are carefully planned.
Myth – ‘Classic’ rape is committed by a stranger lurking in an alleyway with a knife.
Fact – All rape is serious and there is no such thing as ‘real rape’ or ‘classic rape’. Rape involves someone having sex with you without your consent and contrary to popular belief most victims are overcome by the fear of violence rather than its actual use. So-called stranger attacks do happen but the vast majority of reported rapes involve a victim and offender who are known to each other in some way. Very often the relationship is a close one such as marriage or family. It is likely that an even greater proportion of the unreported rapes involve people who are known to each other.
Research shows that over 80% of rapists are known to the victim. he may be a friend, a workmate, relative or partner. These rapes are less likely to be reported to the police given the greater impact that reporting the rape will have on the victims’ personal life. This probably contributes to the widely held but mistaken myth that rape is, in most cases, committed by strangers.
Myth – No heterosexual men rape other men.
Fact – There is a myth that only gay males are victims of rape or serious sexual assault. Rape is not a ‘gay crime’ and does not discriminate. As with women, the perpetrator of sexual violence against men is more likely to be a family member or someone they know.
Myth – Only women get raped and then only certain types of women.
Fact – Anyone can be raped. There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ rape victim and it is certainly not only young women. Young children, men, pregnant mothers and elderly women can be raped. Men can be raped as the offence includes the penetration of the mouth or anus as well as the vagina. Many men are raped. Rape affects all ages and all social classes. It is often not so much about sexual desire as power and control and is often linked to abusive relationships. There is no shame involved in being the victim of rape. It could happen to any of us.
Myth – A victim of rape will scratch, fight and scream.
Fact – It is relatively rare for victims to react in this way. People like to think that they would try and fight off an attacker but the reality is that In traumatic situations we often freeze rather than fight, scream or run away, without generally realising what we are doing or making any conscious decisions about how to react. This is part of our natural psychological make-up. Male victims often feel particularly guilty about this but they shouldn’t. It is entirely natural. Victims often ‘flop’, a decision made by their subconscious brain in order that they will survive the threat. As a result, there is often no sign of violence, torn clothing or witnesses who heard screaming.
Myth – Victims of rape will report it straight away.
Fact – Sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. There are a whole host of factors in this. Being raped leaves victims feeling very confused and upset, particularly if their trust has been broken by someone they know. All sorts of concerns may rush through their heads. Some people will tell someone right away but others may take hours, days, weeks, months or even years before they feel that they can do so. Some people never tell anyone. Research suggests that only about 11% of rape victims report it to the police. Sadly many children don’t feel able to disclose what has happened to them at the time. Sometimes children don’t reveal what happened to them to protect a parent from the pain that knowing about the abuse would cause them.
Myth – A lot of rape allegations are false and made to cover up regretted sexual activity.
Fact – Research suggests that the proportion of reports of rape that are false is no higher than for any other violent crime, perhaps about 3%. But, as is said above, most rape victims do not tell the police at all. Investigators used to find it very easy to assume that a rape complaint was a reprisal or a cover-up of illicit sexual activity but now in more enlightened times police and prosecutors see that this is highly unlikely.
Myth – Women ‘ask for it’ and are to blame if they are drunk, flirting or dressed provocatively.
Fact – Only one person is to blame. The offender. None of these things is an invitation to be raped or an excuse for it. Everyone has the right to enjoy an evening out or to wear what they like without being attacked. ‘No’ means ‘no’ and nobody should have to submit to any sexual activity that they don’t want. Nobody ever deserves to be raped, abused or assaulted, no matter what the circumstances and most rapes are planned and targeted at vulnerable people. Victim blaming myths are, however still rife in society. In 2009 an Amnesty International study revealed that more than a quarter of people surveyed believe that a woman is at least partly responsible for her rape if she had been drinking or had been wearing revealing clothing.
Myth – Women say ‘no’ but they mean ‘yes’
Fact – If a woman says no she means no. Sex without consent is rape. Actually saying, shouting or whispering no is not necessary. The onus is on the male to be sure that his partner is willing so if someone is motionless, rigid and either staring at the wall or has their eyes tightly shut that should raise the question ‘are they really wanting this to happen’. People can’t consent to something if they are asleep or too drunk to know what is going on.
Myth – The Police don’t take rape seriously.
Fact – It is fair to say that in the past the police response to rape victims was not always as understanding as it should have been and this has left a lingering negative perception that they don’t care. Nowadays nothing could be further from the truth. Rape is a very serious crime and the police investigate it very professionally and take great care to support victims and to treat them with dignity. In Staffordshire, specially trained officers will respond to a report of rape. Because most rapes are committed by people known to the victim it is actually very rare for the suspect not to be arrested and interviewed by the police. The often publicised low conviction rates for rape are not really different from that of comparable crimes and the difficulties in gaining rape convictions tend to stem from the fact that suspects generally claim that the acts were consensual and as we have seen above there is seldom evidence of injury, torn clothing or screaming to counter this.
Myth – I either report it to the police straight away or forget it, that’s the choice.
Fact – There are many and complex reasons why people might not want to report to the police, either straight after the attack or ever. Reporting it can be a good idea as you will hopefully get justice and protect yourself and others from the offender. But if you don’t want to report it there are lots of people and organisations that can still help you. At a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) you can ‘self-refer’ and receive medical care if that’s what you need and help and guidance towards other services such as an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) or counselling provided by a local support organisation. For a full list of who is available locally see the links section of the site.