Myth and Misconceptions about Sexual Assault

Research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. Thus, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself, but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes. The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions have a harmful effect on victims.

Counter the myths

Unchallenged sexual assault myths perpetuate feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blaming tendencies for victims. Refusal to accept these myths may help victims to assign different meaning to the experience instead of society’s stereotypical ideas regarding sexual assault.

Myth: Sexual assault results from an uncontrollable sexual urge of biological origin. Men assault impulsively and out of biological need.

Fact: Sexual assault is a criminal act of violence, using sex as a weapon. Men assault to express hostility and to dominate. Men assault because it allows them to express anger and to feel powerful by controlling another person. Studies show that 50% of sexual assaults are premeditated and well-planned, not impulsive, spontaneous, uncontrollable sexual acts. This supports the view that sexual assault is learned behavior and does not arise from just biological need.

Myth: Sexual assaults are usually reported.

Fact: Sexual assault is probably one of the most under-reported crimes; researchers estimate that 50–90% of sexual assault cases go unreported.

Myth: Husbands cannot sexually assault their wives.

Fact: Sexual assault occurs whenever sexual contact is not mutual/consensual, when choice is taken away. Any person who disregards another’s “no” is assaulting them. Researchers have estimated that sexual assault occurs in 10–14% of all marriages.

Myth: Because of a few violent incidents, the issue of sexual assault tends to be over-dramatized.

Fact: At least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. According to the most recent statistics, every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. The statistics are staggering. Only more staggering are the effects from the trauma of sexual assault.

Myth: Most sexual assaults occur in dark alleys or to hitchhikers.

Fact: Most sexual assaults (60%) occur in a private home, and the largest percentage of these assaults (38%) occurs in the victim’s own home. The idea that most sexual assaults fit the “stranger-in-a-dark-alley” stereotype can lead to a false sense of security.

Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.

Fact: Men, both heterosexual and homosexual, are sexually assaulted, and usually by other men. 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime.

Myth: Sexual assault happens to careless people who are “asking for it” by the way they dress or where they are.

Fact: No one asks to be assaulted. All kinds of people, young and old, are sexually assaulted in all kinds of places and at all times. The idea that victims provoke assault by “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” assumes they have no right to be as free as you. This myth shifts the blame from the perpetrator to the victim of this crime. No one “deserves” to be sexually assaulted. No one “asks for it.”

Myth: People often lie about being sexually assaulted.

Fact: Police statistics show that the number of falsely reported sexual assaults is less than that of other crimes — only two percent.

Myth: A prostitute will not be traumatized by a sexual assault. After all, having sex is her/his job.

Fact: A sexual assault can be just as traumatic to an experienced prostitute as to anyone else, and she or he has as much right to treatment, protection, and justice. Rape is a crime of violence, not simply a sexual act.

Myth: With sexual assault, the person who is sexually assaulted is the only one who suffers.

Fact: Sexual assault affects the victim’s family, friends, and others who care for them. The fear of sexual assault affects almost all women. The economic costs of sexual assault affect us all. Sexual assault is an epidemic societal problem.

Myth: If someone agrees to some degree of sexual intimacy, they want to have sexual intercourse.

Fact: A person may feel comfortable with one kind of sexual activity but not wish another — or they may decide they are not really ready for further intimacy. A person has the right not to go any further if they do not wish to. 

Myth: It’s only sexual assault if physical violence or weapons are used.

Fact: Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature imposed by one person upon another. Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Myth: The greatest danger is from a stranger.

Fact: Most sexual assaults, 80%, are committed by someone the victim knows (family member, friend, dating partner, spouse, neighbor, coach, teacher, doctor, therapist, etc.).

Myth: Most sexual perpetrators are “insane.”

Fact: Although sexual perpetrators have been shown to have poor self-images and a tendency toward violence, they are average in other aspects of their lives. Most sexual assault perpetrators are white, educated, middle-class men. Men who commit sexual assault come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age, and social group.

Myth: Men who rape other men are homosexual.

Fact: The vast majority of males who sexually assault other males (including children) are heterosexual. Men and women are assaulted for basically the same reasons: so the assailant can vent hostility and feel a sense of power. Fear of homosexuality ironically leads some men to sexually assault gay men. The motivations for same-sex assault are power and anger. Sexual orientation is not a motivation for sexual assault.

Myth: If the “victim” is aroused during the “assault” it is not really assault.

Fact:  No-one ever enjoys sexual assault. In some cases a person may respond sexually during the assault, but this is purely a reflex physiological response—it does not indicate that the abuse was welcome. 

Myth: Sexually assaulting a woman is a sign of how masculine a man is and of how sexually potent he is.

Fact: Studies have shown that many (58%) perpetrators suffer from sexual dysfunctions such as impotence and premature ejaculation.

Myth: Rapists are sexually unfulfilled men.

Fact: 30% of rapists are married and having sex regularly.

–This is a supplement to Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault