Content warning: This page contains information about relationship and sexual violence.
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Rape myths are damaging and false beliefs about rape and sexual assault that are perpetuated when individuals make judgments about survivors based on these inaccurate beliefs.
They are sometimes spread because it is easier for people to believe the survivor must have done something to deserve being raped or sexually assaulted. This belief allows people to feel they are safer because they are able to protect themselves. However, survivors are not to blame for an offender’s behavior. Sexual assault is a crime, and responsibility lies only with the perpetrator.
Myth: The victim must have “asked for it” by being seductive, careless, drunk, high, etc.
Fact: No one asks to be abused, injured or humiliated. No one can cause an offender to commit a crime against them.
Myth: If the victim did not physically struggle with or fight the assailant, it wasn’t really rape.
Fact: A “freeze” response is a normal response to trauma, rendering a victim unable to physically fight back. Furthermore, offenders are not looking for a fight and they use many forms of coercion, threats and manipulation to commit sexual violence. Many victims do not fight back because they are afraid or feel compelled to cooperate. Alcohol and other drugs are often used to incapacitate victims.
Myth: Most perpetrators are strangers to the victim.
Fact: Most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows: a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner or ex-partner.
Myth: Rape is caused by the perpetrator’s uncontrollable sexual urge
Fact: Rape is an act or power and control. Perpetrators are fully able to control their sexual urges, as evidenced by the fact the majority of individuals do not rape.
Myth: Individuals who commit rape are mentally ill or psychotic, and cannot help themselves.
Fact: Very few perpetrators are mentally incompetent or out of touch with reality. Mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crime than to perpetrate it.
Male Survivor Rape Myths
Myth: Men can’t be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Men are sexually assaulted. Any man can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, appearance or sexual orientation.
Myth: Only gay men are sexually assaulted.
Fact: Heterosexual, gay and bisexual men are all assaulted for the same reason- because someone decided to assault them.
Myth: Only gay men sexually assault other men.
Fact: Most men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. This fact helps to highlight another reality: sexual assault is about violence, anger and control over another person, not lust or sexual attraction.
Myth: A woman can not sexually assault a man.
Fact: Although the majority of perpetrators are male, people of all genders can be both victims and perpetrators of sexual violence.
Myth: Sexual arousal, including climax, erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault means the survivor wanted it or consented to the sexual contact.
Fact: Sexual arousal, including climax, erection and ejaculation are physiological responses that may result from mere physical contact or even extreme stress. These responses do not imply the survivor wanted or enjoyed the assault and do not indicate anything about sexual orientation. Some rapists are aware how arousal, climax, erection and ejaculation can confuse a victim of sexual assault; this motivates them to manipulate their victims to the point of arousal, climax, erection or ejaculation to increase their feelings of control and to discourage reporting of the crime.
Dating Violence Myths
Myth: College students do not have to worry about becoming victims of dating or relationship violence.
Fact: Dating and domestic abuse is a problem on college campuses and often an indication of abuse in subsequent relationships and marriages.
Myth: Jealousy is a sign of love.
Fact: When a person continually accuses their partner of flirting or cheating and is suspicious of others in their partner’s life, it is inappropriately possessive and controlling behavior.
Myth: When someone hits or degrades an intimate partner, the partner must have provoked the behavior in some way.
Fact: While anger can be provoked during an argument, abuse is a choice the perpetrator makes to establish control during the argument. It is an intentional act or set of acts designed to force the abused partner to submit to the will of the abuser.
Myth: People in abusive relationships stay because they enjoy being abused.
Fact: People who are abused by their dating or domestic partner do not stay in the relationship because they enjoy the maltreatment. The victim may stay for practical or emotional reasons including love and attachment, fear of reprisal such as more injury or ultimately death, economic factors, social isolation or shame, or to keep a family together.
Myth: Emotional abuse is not really abuse.
Fact: Emotional abuse not only impacts the victim’s self-esteem, it can cause long-term psychological trauma. For many victims, it is the most damaging aspect of abusive relationships.
Used with permission from University of Missouri, RSVP office, 2010
Alcohol & Substances Rape Myths
Myth: If women would just stop drinking so much, they wouldn’t be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Alcohol is a tool that some perpetrators use to control their victim and render them helpless. As part of their plan, an offender may encourage the victim to use alcohol, or identify an individual who is already drunk. Alcohol is not a cause of rape; it is only one of many tools that perpetrators use.
Fact: Research shows that the use of alcohol is associated with 50-72% of all campus sexual assaults (Abby 2002, Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study).
It is important to understand that alcohol does not cause rape. Alcohol is sometimes referred to as “the most common date-rape drug” because of the way that some perpetrators use to control their victim or render them submissive and helpless. Predators often use alcohol as part of their plan by encouraging more drinking, buying and offering more drinks throughout an event, or identifying an individual who is already drunk and preying on them.
Understanding how alcohol is used to assist in sexual assault is very powerful information for individuals.
Other predatory drugs that can be used include ecstasy, Rohypnol, ketamine and GHB. The goal of these drugs is to impair a victims’ thought processes and to render a victim physically or mentally incapable of resisting advances or an attack.