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Social Myths about Rape and Sexual Abuse

There are some common and widespread misconceptions about rape and sexual abuse, which are clearly not true. These false ideas typically serve to put the blame for an assault onto the victim and away from the perpetrator. These ideas are not only false, but they can be very hurtful for survivors and their loved ones. Educating ourselves about the truth and fictions surrounding sexual assault is crucial to supporting survivors and the community.

Myth: Rape isn't all that common.

Fact:

The SAVI study commissioned by Dublin RCC in 2002 found that as many as one in four women and one in six men in Ireland have some experience of sexual assault before the age of eighteen.

Myth: Rape doesn't have to happen; resist and you won't get raped.

Fact: Rape is not dependent on how much a victim may resist. In addition, most assaults are not physically violent attacks.

While we often hear about “fight or flight,” when actually in many cases a victim will reflexively freeze in order to survive. A victim could also be incapacitated by drugs or alcohol and not able to defend themselves- which is, of course, not their fault. In addition, there victims could be coerced into giving consent for various reasons, such as perceived dangers of active resistance, fear, or other pressures.

Myth: The woman (or man) was asking for it.

Fact:

Victims supposedly “ask for it” in many ways:

⇒Wearing something defined by men as provocative

⇒Making friendly conversation

⇒Walking alone at night

⇒Hitching hiking

⇒Accepting invitations for a drink/dinner

⇒Going back to a man’s flat or inviting him back to hers, etc

This myth serves to place the responsibility for the sexual assault with the person who was raped rather than where it should lie, with the rapist. The notion is, if women (or men) follow these rules they will be safe. Not only does this idea fail to guarantee safety; it is severely limiting to independence and mobility.

Myth: Rape isn't a big deal... it's just bad sex.

Fact:

All kinds of abuse can have devastating effects on a victim. To suggest that sexual violence is unimportant or insignificant is to minimize the experience of victims, and again to forgive the perpetrator. This type of thinking is what will make the perpetrator feel invincible, and empower them to assault again.

Myth: Victims are often lying and falsely accusing people of rape.

Fact: Official FBI statistics on the number of false reported rapes put the figures at 2%, which is the same as for any other crime. Other studies have found that when underreporting is factored in, this number is much lower, around .005%.  Reporting sexual abuse involves complex and traumatic procedures. Taking these factors into consideration makes it seem highly unlikely that someone would make a false accusation of rape.

While it may be easier to accuse a victim of lying than to accept that our friend or loved one might have raped someone, such attitudes continue the blaming and mistrust of victims.

Myth: Rape is committed by strangers in dark alleys.

Fact: In most cases, the victim knows the perpetrator. In 2014, 92% of perpetrators were known to their victims, and were frequently in a position of trust or authority. Rapists can be husbands, lovers, ex- partners, fathers, employers, or other authority figures (e.g. doctors, teachers), friends, acquaintances or colleagues.

Myth: Rape is an act committed by someone who is mentally ill.

Fact: Most rapists are not psychotic maniacs or monsters. In reality, most (although not all) perpetrators are men of all ages and from all walks of life. Very few are referred to clinics or hospitals for psychiatric treatment. Prof. M. Amir of Chicago University stated that the 646 convicted rapists studied were no more psychologically disturbed than violence prone offenders of other crimes such as robbery or assault were.

Myth: If a victim doesn't report to the police, they must be lying.

Fact: 

The majority of incidents of rape and other sexual abuse go unreported. Statistics show that reporting of sexual assault occurs in around 5-10% of cases.

There are many reasons why reporting is so infrequent. Some survivors find themselves under a lot of pressure not to report. Due to victim blaming in society, they might be afraid of being blamed for breaking up their families or ruining their friends’ lives, pushing the blame back onto the victim for their own assault. They may feel confused as to what happened to them and their feelings for the perpetrator, especially if they were dating or friends.

The perpetrator might have threatened terrible consequences if they tell or report. These pressures serve to take control away from the survivor and create an atmosphere where sexual violence can happen undisclosed.

Some people are put off by the long, drawn out court procedure, and by the prospect of facing the assailant in court. Often after an assault, survivors just want to forget about it.

Furthermore, even after a rape or sexual assault is reported, a prosecution or conviction is no guarantee. Many reported cases never make it to court and many cases that come to court do not end with a conviction. Often, the risk of this keeps victims silent.

Fight, flight, freeze?

Fight or flight is not as common as the FREEZE reaction when assaulted

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Percent of clients who knew their perpetrators

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Percentage of assaults that involved alcohol consumption

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Percentage of assaults that occurred at either the perpetrator or victims' home

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