Someone could write an entire book about rape myths and how they are reinforced in our society. These myths revolve around victims and perpetrators.
To eliminate the violence of sexual assault, we must all understand what we believe to be true about rape. Here are some of the more popular myths we hold, not only as individuals, but also as a society.
Myth: Most sexual assault victims were “asking for it,” (i.e., the assault was provoked by the victim in some way. See Victim Blaming). If you are dressed a certain way, drink too much, get invited over late at night, or flirt too much, then what did you expect?
Fact: To say that someone wants to be raped is the same as saying that they want to be mugged or robbed. The responsibility for raping always lies with the person who committed the crime, not the victim or survivor.
Myth: Most people are raped by strangers.
Fact: According to RAINN, 7 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by people that the victim knew beforehand. 45% are committed by acquaintances, 25% by a former or current partner, 6% by multiple people, and 1% by relatives, not including a spouse. Only 28% of reported sexual assaults were committed by strangers.
Myth: Most victims sustain serious physical injuries.
Fact: Over two-thirds (70%) of rape victims report no physical injuries. Only 4% sustained serious physical injuries, with 24% receiving minor physical injuries. However, it is important to note that many victims (almost half at 49%) who did not sustain physical injuries still feared being seriously injured or killed during the rape. It is important to note as well that just because a victim may not be injured physically, they are still the victim of a violent crime.
Myth: People who submit during sexual assault have not been forcibly raped.
Fact: While most are familiar with “fight” and “flight” responses, another common physiological response to danger is “freeze.” Some studies have recently come out that lead us to believe that this may be the most common physiological response for victims of sexual assault. This means that, in the event of a sexual assault, most victims are not capable of fighting back or even moving. There are also many cases where victims have been drugged or are simply unconscious, drunk, or sleeping, all of which are states that greatly impair someone’s ability to fight back.
Myth: Rapists can’t be blamed for their actions in the heat of the moment because they can’t control themselves. Boys will be boys.
Fact: Many rapes are not impulsive acts, but rather planned events. In a 1971 study, Menachem Amir found that 71% of rapes are premeditated. Amir also found that 60% of offenders were married and having consensual sexual relations while assaulting other women. The myth that the rapist is carried away by uncontrollable sexual desire and that this behavior is a natural masculine trait is not only inaccurate, but also offensive. It excuses the men who commit these crimes by chalking up their behavior to “human nature” and places lower expectations on men who do not commit them.
Myth: Most sexual assaults involve a black man raping a white woman.
Fact: Amir’s study cited above found that in 93% of assaults, the rapist and victim were of the same race. In only 3.3% of the cases, black men did rape white women, while in 3.4% white men raped black women. It is more comfortable for most white women and men to believe a potential attacker is a man of color. It is more difficult to face the reality – most attackers are of the same race and many are professionals whom the community trusts.
Myth: If they’re dating or married, it’s not rape.
Fact: According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 10 women has been raped by their intimate partner in their lifetime. Just because people are in a romantic relationship does not imply consent. Consent is necessary for any and every sexual activity, and must be a constant conversation between partners. No matter how many times partners have had sex before, each circumstance should be evaluated alone and not in the context of past encounters.
Myth: Once you say yes to having sex, you have to follow through! Stopping halfway through would be rude.
Fact: Consent needs to be constant– that means that at any point during sexual activity, it can be taken away. If someone says to stop and their partner continues, that is sexual assault.
Myth: People who report rapes are probably exaggerating or making it up to get attention.
Fact: The statistics show that rapes are wrongly reported at almost exactly the same rate as any other crime. According to RAINN, only 344 of every 1000 assaults are actually reported to police. Of those reported rapes, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that a mere 2-8% are false reports.