There are sadly still many common myths surrounding rape and other forms of sexual violence; here are just a few:
Myth Women shouldn't go out alone, especially at night. Women are most likely to be raped outside, by strangers in dark alleyways, and this is the best way for a woman to protect herself.
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'. This myth can also control women's movements and restrict their rights and freedom.
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 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.
Media often refer to women in the 'roles' that they have - 'young mum', 'grandmother', 'doctor's wife', 'prostitute' etc. - and describe arbitrary factors like what she was wearing or how she'd been behaving when she was sexually assaulted. The implication is that some women are more 'innocent' victims than others, that some are more worthy of sympathy, or that some women are partly to blame for their experience of sexual violence.
The rules imposed on women's behaviour allow rapists to shift the responsibility for rape onto women wherever possible, so that rapists are sometimes portrayed as victims of malicious allegations, carelessness or stupidity. There is no other crime in which so much effort is expended to make the victim appear responsible.
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 The woman did not get hurt or fight back. It couldn't have been rape.
Fact Men who rape or sexually assault women and girls will often use weapons or threats of violence to intimidate women. The fact that there is no visible evidence of violence does not mean that a woman has not been raped.
Faced with the reality of rape, women 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 women's physcial resistance. The only form of control that seems available to women 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 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 does 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 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. At present, it's estimated that only 15% of the 85,000 women who are raped and over 400,000 who are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year report. One significant reason many women and girls tell us they don't go to the police is because of their fear of not being believed.
Unfortunately, a disproportionate media focus on the very small number of cases each year that involve a so-called false allegation of sexual violence perpetuates the public perception that malicious false reporting is common. In fact, it is this perception that is entirely false. 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%. In March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are 'very rare' and suggesting they could make up less than 1% of all reports. Read more here.
Myth Women cannot rape.
Fact The majority of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men against women and children. Nonetheless, a small number of women do perpetrate sexual violence. Often women and children who've been sexually assaulted or abused by women, for example within their family or a same-sex relationship, are particularly fearful that they will not be believed, that their experiences won't be taken seriously or won't be considered 'as bad' as being raped by a man. This can make it difficult for these survivors to access services or justice.
Adult men are also raped and sexually assaulted. While Rape Crisis focuses particularly on the needs and rights of women and girls, and on providing specialist services within women-only safe spaces, we of course recognise that the impacts of sexual violence on the lives of men and boys are no less devastating and we believe all survivors of sexual violence deserve specialist support. Find more information for male survivors here.
In law, only a man can commit the offence of Rape [Sec 1 (1) SOA 2003], as this is defined as penetration with a penis. Non-consensual penetration with something other than a penis is defined as Sexual Assault by Penetration. For those who've experienced sexual violence that involved penetration by something other than a penis, whoever the perpetrator was, these legal definitions can feel restrictive, and as if their experience is not considered as serious.
Rape Crisis provides specialist services to women and girls who've experienced any form of sexual violence at any time in their lives. When we work with survivors, we are led by them, encourage them to name and frame their own experiences, and use the language that they find most meaningful and respresentative, rather than strict legal terminology.