A myth is a false idea that many people believe to be true.
In many societies all over the world, people have believed and still believe in myths about what rape is and what causes it.
Why are rape myths so harmful?
Myths lead people to blame the victim. We think that she/he was asking to be raped. Instead of holding the rapist responsible for the rape, we blame the victim. In court, defence lawyers can also use myths to attempt to undermine the testimony of the survivor. This can prevent justice from being done.
Myths make people doubt what the victim says. We think that she/he was not really raped. This can mean that the victim does not get the support she/he needs from people around her. It can also make officials in the criminal justice system doubt her testimony, preventing justice from being done.
Myths make rape survivors feel too ashamed or too guilty to report the rape or to share it with friends and family. The survivor ends up isolated and does not get the support she/he needs to help her recover from the trauma of the rape. Studies estimate that only one in nine survivors report rape. This means that most rapists walk freely among us, unpunished and ready to re-offend.
Myths take away the dignity and humanity of the survivor, causing them more trauma and pain and lowering their chances of recovery. Myths also prevent many rapists from being prosecuted. It is vital that all of us in society reject these myths, so that survivors may fully recover and more rapists be convicted.
MYTH: The woman did not get hurt or fight back. It couldn’t have been rape.
FACT: People who rape or sexually assault will often use emotional manipulation, weapons or threats of violence to intimidate their victim. The fact that there is no visible evidence of violence does not mean that someone has not been raped.
Faced with the reality of rape, people make second by second decisions, all of which are directed at minimising the harm done to them. At the point where initial resistance, struggling, reasoning etc. have failed, the fear of further violence often limits a person’s physical resistance. The only form of control that seems available to a person at this point is limiting the harm done to them.
Many people who experience sexual violence describe freezing or feeling paralysed with shock or fear.
MYTH: Women are most likely to be raped outside, by strangers in dark alleyways.
FACT: Women are often advised to avoid sexual violence by never walking alone at night. But in fact, only around 10% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’. Around 90% of rapes are committed by known men; someone who the survivor has previously known, trusted, often even loved. People are raped in their homes, their workplaces and other settings where they have previously felt safe. Sometimes, the myth that rape is most commonly perpetrated by strangers can make the majority of survivors, who have been raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know, even less likely to report to the police or even confide in someone close about their experiences, for fear of not being believed, out of a sense of shame or self-blame, and/or because they have mixed feelings about getting the perpetrator ‘into trouble’.
MYTH: You Can Tell if She’s ‘Really’ Been Raped by How She Acts
FACT: Reactions to rape are highly varied and individual; and many women experience a form of shock after a rape that leaves them emotionally numb or flat – and apparently calm.
MYTH: If the victim didn’t complain immediately it wasn’t rape
FACT: The trauma of rape can cause feelings of shame and guilt which might inhibit a victim from making a complaint. This fact was recognised by the Court of Appeal in R v D (JA) October 24 2008, where it was held that judges are entitled to direct juries that due to shame and shock, victims of rape might not complain for some time, and that a late complaint does not mean that it’s a false complaint.
MYTH: Women often make up stories or lie about being raped.
FACT: For anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, whether or not to report to the police can be a difficult decision. One significant reason many victims don’t go to the police is because of their fear of not being believed.
For many years, studies have suggested that false reporting rates for rape are no different from false reporting rates for any other crime, that is, around 4% however in March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are ‘very rare’ and suggested they could make up less than 1% of all reports.
Some people believe that people make false accusations of rape or sexual assault out of malice or fear of disapproval of consensual sex. A person who reports a rape or sexual assault undergoes a lengthy Police interview and an internal medical examination. Months later, she or he faces a court appearance where s/he may be cross-examined on the details of the rape or sexual assault. It is unlikely that a person would put him or herself through such an extended ordeal to substantiate a false allegation, or that an individual could sustain a story which was not true. In reality rape and sexual assault are hugely under-reported crimes.
MYTH: The woman was drunk / took drugs / was hitch hiking / wore tight clothes / worked in the sex industry / seduced him / probably got what she was asking for.
FACT: If a person is unconscious or their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give consent. Having non-consensual sex with a person who is intoxicated is rape.
Rapists use a variety of excuses to attempt to discredit the women they rape and to justify their crimes. But no-one asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted and 100% of the responsibility for any act of sexual violence lies with its perpetrator.
MYTH: Rape only happens to young, attractive women.
FACT: Many people believe that only a certain ‘type’ of woman is in danger of being raped or sexually assaulted. In fact, people, and especially women and girls, of all ages, classes, culture, ability, sexuality, race and faith are raped.
Some men joke or make comments about a woman’s appearance or age to indicate whether she is sexually desirable or available. But the perceived ‘attractiveness’ of a victim has very little to do with sexual violence. Rape is an act of violence not sex.
Myth Everyone knows when a woman says “no”, she often means “yes”.
FACT: Rape is a terrifying, violent and humiliating experience that no-one wants or asks for. Legally a person has the right to change their mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at the time a person says no, this is sexual assault. If a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with a person before, this does not mean that they cannot be assaulted or raped by that person. Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sex without consent is rape.
MYTH: Women eventually relax and enjoy it. They secretly want to be raped.
FACT: Women do not enjoy being raped. Victims of murder, robbery and other crimes are never portrayed as enjoying the experience.
MYTH: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to commit sexual violence.
FACT: There is no typical rapist. Studies show that men who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group.
MYTH: Men who rape or sexually assault are mentally ill or monsters.
FACT: Studies have indicated that as few as 5% of men are psychotic at the time of their crimes. Few convicted rapists are referred for psychiatric treatment.
MYTH: The man was drunk / on drugs / depressed / under stress / wasn’t himself.
FACT: Men use a variety of excuses to justify the act of rape. There is never an excuse.
MYTH: Once a man is sexually aroused he cannot help himself. He has to have sex.
FACT: Most rapes are premeditated i.e. they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. Rapes committed by more than one perpetrator are always planned. Men can quite easily control their urges to have sex – they do not need to rape a woman to satisfy them. Rape is an act of violence – not sexual gratification. Men who rape or sexually assault do so to dominate, violate and control.
MYTH: Men who rape are sexually frustrated / do not have the opportunity to have sex with a willing partner.
FACT: Men who rape are as likely as any other man to be cohabiting or having a significant relationship with a woman. More than one in five women are raped by their partners or their husbands.
MYTH: Only Gay Men Get Raped/Only Gay Men Rape Men
- men of all sexual orientations get raped
- men who rape other men are often heterosexual – they usually have a relationship with a woman
- rapists rape other men as part of their violence and need for power, dominance and control