This page has been printed from the Yarrow Place website http://www.yarrowplace.sa.gov.au
Myths and Facts about Rape and Sexual Assault
Many myths and misconceptions exist about the nature of rape and sexual assault and, in particular, who is responsible for this crime. Myths have real effects on people’s lives. These myths can add to the trauma for people who have been raped - sometimes because the person who has been raped holds some of these beliefs themselves, which makes it harder to deal with the assault; and sometimes because other people say things based on the myths.
As myths usually place the responsibility for rape and sexual assault on the victim/survivor, they are powerful mechanisms to silence people about their experience.
The historical, social and cultural context that impacts on attitudes and beliefs about rape and sexual assault has previously been mentioned. Some of the myths that have developed from this are specific about women, others relate to men and some to women and men. What they all have in common is their purpose: to shift responsibility away from the perpetrator and to blame the victim/survivor.
|Women enjoy being raped.
||Rape is a frightening and humiliating experience during which the woman has no control over what happens.
|It is impossible to rape a man or woman unless the perpetrator has a gun or knife.
||Perpetrators do not need a weapon to terrify victim/survivors into submission. Many are in fear of losing their lives or being hurt, regardless of whether or not the assailant has a weapon.
|Nice girls don’t get raped.
||All women are vulnerable to sexual assault.
|Most rapists are strangers.
||Most perpetrators are known to the victim/survivor and include, partner, friend, neighbour, father, other relative, work colleague or boss.
|Rapes occur at night in a dark alley.
||Many rapes occur during the day. Almost half of the rapes reported take place in the victim/survivor’s or perpetrator’s home.
|It is a man’s right to have sex with his wife or partner whenever he wants to.
||Forcing a person to have sex when she does not want is rape. A relationship does not imply consent.
|Perpetrators are psychopaths
||There is no typical perpetrator. Violent rapes by psychotic men are well publicised but in fact most perpetrators look and act like ordinary men and lead otherwise ordinary lives.
|If a woman/man didn’t scream or fight it couldn’t have been rape.
Men are always able to defend themselves.
|Many people who have been raped are not able to struggle or scream. They have been threatened and some become paralysed with fear. There is also the fear that the attacker will become more violent if they struggle.
|Women provoke rape by the way they dress or act.
||Almost anything a woman does could be construed as being an invitation to rape, or asking for it. Women are supposed to be attractive, but if they are raped they are told they provoked the attack by the way they dressed. Women who are hitchhiking are asking for a lift, not to be raped.
|People who are affected by alcohol or drugs are asking to be raped.
||Being in a vulnerable position does not imply consent.
|Men who are raped are gay.
||Men who are raped are vulnerable because of their age, isolation or because they may seem to be different.
|Men who rape other men are gay.
||Men who rape other men often identify themselves as heterosexual. They rape other men as a part of an act of violence and the need for power and dominance.
Responsibility and Vulnerability
The common purpose of all these attitudes and beliefs is to shift the responsibility for the rape from the perpetrator to the survivor and suggest that people who are raped or sexually assaulted were somehow responsible for the assault.
Other statements like “she shouldn’t have been dressed like that”; “she is my wife/girlfriend”, “he’s too young to have been out by himself that late”; “she shouldn’t have hitchhiked”; “he shouldn’t have had so much to drink” suggest that the behaviour of the victim allowed the assault to happen.
Two different issues are confused. One is ‘vulnerability’, and the other is ‘responsibility’.
Kim has been drinking and a man s/he knows offers Kim a lift home. The man stops the car in a dark area and wants Kim to have sex with him. Kim is vulnerable because s/he has been drinking, is alone with the man, in a dark area, with nobody else around. If the man decides to respect Kim’s “no” to sex, Kim is safe. If he uses this situation to force Kim to have sex against Kim’s will, that’s rape. Kim is safe, or not safe, depending on what the man decides to do. He is 100% responsible for his actions and whether or not Kim is safe or not safe.
There are factors that may make people more vulnerable. Some of these are more likely to be under their control (e.g. drinking less), others are not (e.g. being female, having a disability). It is possible to reduce some of the risk factors that are under people’s control. However, it is important to remember that rape and sexual assault happens when the perpetrator exploits vulnerabilities and this does not make the victim/survivor responsible for the rape or sexual assault.
Factors that may increase vulnerability:
Age: Children and young people are more often raped or sexually assaulted than older people.
Sex: Women and girls are more often raped or sexually assaulted than men and boys.
Disability: People with disabilities are more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than people without disabilities.
Isolation: Being a long way from other people and/or not having much contact with others can make it harder to escape, or harder to get help.
Being affected by drugs or alcohol: This may make it more difficult to be aware of what’s going on and to escape.
Mental Health: People with mental health issues are more vulnerable to rape and sexual assault.
Previous Child Sexual Assault: People who have been sexually abused as children are more likely to be sexually assaulted as adults.
The perpetrator is always responsible for the rape or sexual assault. Alcohol and drug use and inability to control sexual desires are some of the excuses the perpetrator may use to shift responsibility. Rapists do know what they are doing and are making choices to behave in that way.
It is important to remember:
- vulnerability is not the same as responsibility
- the offender is always responsible for the assault
- no-one asks to be raped or sexually assaulted
- no-one deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted
- rape and sexual assault is always an abuse of power.
Perpetrators use many deceitful processes in their effort to commit rape and sexual assault. They may use these processes short term or over a prolonged period of time. Some of the tactics can include
- Setting up and preparing the environment , for example isolating the person physically from other people by offering them a lift home
- Gaining the trust of the person and/or those close to them for the purpose of sexual assault
- Using tactics that make it very difficult for the survivor to tell someone about the sexual violence.
Here is an example:
A View To A Rape
This chilling interview with a rapist shows the horrific ease with which he got away with raping young women. The interview was conducted by David Lisak, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts in the US.
“I was working hard at my uni degree and always looked forward to the parties my friends and I threw on the weekends. We’d always make sure we invited girls. The younger, more naïve ones were by far the easiest – they’d be drunk in minutes, and would be our targets. We’d allocate rooms in the house to bring girls up to once they were “ready”.
“One night, for example, I started making moves on this one girl who was really wasted. I took her up to a room, gave her another drink and sat her down on the bed. I started removing her clothes and at some point she started saying she didn’t want to do it right away – or something like that. I just kept working on her clothes. Then she tried to push me away with her hands, and I pushed her down. It pissed me off she played along with it the whole way and then decided to back out of it at the end.
“Eventually she stopped trying to weasel out of it, and I fucked her. I had my arm across the top of her chest the whole time and that’s how I did it. Then I got dressed and went back to the party”.
Search literature on ‘Rape Myths’, ‘Myths and Facts’ about Sexual Assault. Most books written for survivors include chapters on this issue.