Myths and Facts About Sexual Assault

MYTH: It could never happen to me

FACT: It can happen to anyone. Potential rape victims include people of any age, race, class, religion, occupation, education or physical description.

MYTH: Most rapes occur as a "spur of the moment" act in a dark alley by a stranger.

FACT: Rape often occurs in one's home. Very often the offender is a relative, friend, acquaintance or neighbor of the victim. Most rapes are carefully planned, and a rapist will rape again and again, generally in the same area of town and in the same manner.

MYTH: Rape is a crime of passion.

FACT: Rape is a violent crime. 87% of rapists either carry a weapon or threaten the victim with violence or death. Research shows that men who rape do so because they want to dominate and have power over another person. Sex is used as a weapon. Sexual assault (and sexual abuse) is sexual contact without consent. Rape, incest, attempted rape and unwanted sexual touch are often called sexual assault. Though psychological and physical abuse, it violates not only the individual's personal integrity, but also one's sense of safety and control over one's life.

MYTH: Rape happens only to young women.

FACT: Rape victims range in age from 4 months to 92 years. Women of all ages, socioeconomic groups, neighborhoods and lifestyles can become victims- as can men and boys.

MYTH: If the victim really wanted to, she/he really could have prevented the assault.

FACT: Victims of sexual assault are disarmed by terror, confusion and/or lethal weapons. The very uncertainty of the outcome renders the victim vulnerable; most victims report that they were afraid they would be killed during their assault. Also, different motives operate in different offenders. Therefore, what might be successful in dissuading one assailant might only aggravate another.

MYTH: Women are "asking for it" by their dress or actions.

FACT: Research shows that rapists look for available targets they perceive as vulnerable, not women who dress in a particular way. No person asks to be hurt and degraded, just as no one asks to be robbed because they are carrying money in their pocket. Rape is the responsibility of the rapist, not the victim.

MYTH: Women who don't fight back haven't been raped.

FACT: You have been raped when you are forced to have sex against your will, whether you fight back or not. Fear of death, threat of violence or physical brutality can immobilize anyone.

MYTH: A woman who gets raped deserves it, especially if she agreed to go to the man's house or car.

FACT: No one, male or female, deserves to be raped. Being in a man/woman's house does not mean the consent to have sex has been given.

MYTH: It is not really rape if the woman knows the man.

FACT: Acquaintance rape is forced, manipulated or coerced sexual contact that is committed by someone who is at least casually known to the victim. 80% of all sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim.

MYTH: Women say "no" but mean "yes."

FACT: No means no. Women and girls are socially conditioned to be hard to get. Men and boys may feel they are getting a mixed message. Nevertheless, when a woman says "no," "no" should be respected; to force contact after "no" is an assault. 57% of all sexual assaults occur during a date.

MYTH: A rapist is easy to spot in a crowd.

FACT: Most rapists appear to be perfectly normal individuals. Most are married and young, although they can be any age. They can be of any race, class, culture, gender, etc.

MYTH: Women have no reasons to claim rape if they previously had sexual contact with the acquaintance or are not a virgin.

FACT: Everyone has the right to withhold consent to sexual contact when they do not want it, regardless of previous consent or other sexual relationships.

MYTH: A husband cannot rape his wife.

FACT: Marital rape is forced sexual contact by a husband against his wife, which is illegal. A marriage license does not require a wife to submit to sexual contact whenever the husband demands it.

MYTH: "Forced marital sex" is not "real rape."

FACT: Sexual contact that is forced within marriage can be just as horrifying and violent as forced sexual contact by a stranger.

MYTH: Husbands are excluded from rape statutes because wives are likely to file false charges in order to obtain some type of advantage.

FACT: This rarely happens. The amount of false charges is the same as for any other violent crime (about 2%).

Adapted and reproduced with permission from the Waukesha Women's Center Advocate Manual and the LACASA Advocacy Manual.