A whole manual could be written about rape myths and their functions in our society. These myths affect both perpetrators and victims, since we all believe them to one extent or another.
To end the violence of sexual assault, we must all understand what we believe to be true about rape. Below 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).
Fact: To say that someone wants to be raped is the same as saying that people ask to be mugged or robbed. In fact, 60-70% of rapes are at least partially planned in advance, and the victim is often threatened with death or bodily harm if she resists. The responsibility for raping always lies with the perpetrator, not the victim.
Myth: Most women are raped by strangers.
Fact: According to Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, only 22% of rape victims were assaulted by someone they had never seen before or did not know well. The breakdown of non-stranger offenders in this study was: 9% by husbands or ex-husbands, 10% by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends, 11% by their fathers or stepfathers, 16% by other relatives, and 29% by other non-relatives, such as friends or neighbors. In addition, rapists include doctors, lawyers, therapists, clergy, police officers, and other authority figures. Because of their social and financial positions, these men are seldom prosecuted for their acts of violence, and their actions are seldom publicized.
Myth: Most victims sustain serious physical injuries.
Fact: Over two-thirds (70%) of rape victims reported no physical injuries, and only 4% sustained serious physical injuries, with 24% receiving minor physical injuries. However, it is important to note that many victims who did not sustain physical injuries nonetheless feared being seriously injured or killed during the rape. Almost half of all rape victims (49%) described being fearful of serious injury or death during the rape. (It is important to note here that just because a victim may not look injured physically, she is still the victim of a violent crime.)
Myth: A corollary to the above myth is that women who submit during sexual assault have not been forcibly raped.
Fact: Again, victims often submit without struggle due to fear of physical threat, or if the assailant is armed with a deadly weapon. Many times, the victim is incapable of either consenting or resisting, such as when she is unconscious, sleeping, drugged or drunk, a child, or has a physical or cognitive disability.
Myth: Rapists are sexually frustrated men, carried away with desire and passion.
Fact: Many rapes are not impulsive acts, but are 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 his behavior is a natural masculine trait, serves only to excuse men who rape and place blame on the victim.
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 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.
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