There are many myths about rape and other forms of sexual violence which can reinforce feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame for the women and girls who have experienced sexual assault. Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre is committed to dispelling these myths and reducing the stigma around sexual violence, to help create an environment in which survivors feel safe and confident to seek support.
Myth: Women are most likely to be raped outside, after dark and by a stranger, so women shouldn’t go out alone at night.
Fact: Only around 10% of rapes are committed by ‘strangers’. Around 90% of rapes are committed by known men, and often by someone who the survivor has previously trusted or even loved. People are raped in their homes, their workplaces and other settings where they have previously felt safe. Rapists can be friends, colleagues, clients, neighbours, family members, partners or exes. Risk of rape shouldn’t be used as an excuse to control women’s movements and restrict their rights and freedom.
Myth: Only young, ‘attractive’ women and girls, who are flirtatious and wear tight clothes, are raped.
Fact: People of all ages and appearances, and of all classes, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, races and religions, are raped. Rape is an act of violence and control; the perceived ‘attractiveness’ of a victim has very little to do with it. There is no excuse or mitigation for sexual violence and it is never the victim/survivor’s fault. What someone was wearing when they were raped or how they behave is irrelevant.
Myth: When it comes to sex, women and girls sometimes ‘play hard to get’ and say ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes’.
Fact: Everyone has the legal right to say ‘no’ to sex and to change their mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact; if the other person doesn’t stop, they are committing sexual assault or rape. When it comes to sex, we must respect the wishes of our sexual partner and believe what they tell us about what they do and don’t want.
Myth: If two people have had sex with each other before, it’s always OK to have sex again.
Fact: If a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them before, this does not mean that they cannot be sexually assaulted or raped by that person. Consent must be given and received every time two people engage in sexual contact. It is important to check in with our sexual partners and make sure that anything sexual that happens between us is what we both want, every time.
Myth: Alcohol, drugs, stress or depression can turn people into rapists.
Fact: Drugs and alcohol are never the cause of rape or sexual assault. It is the attacker who is committing the crime, not the drugs and/or alcohol. Likewise, stress and depression don’t turn people into rapists or justify sexual violence. There are no excuses.
Myth: Someone who has willingly drunk lots of alcohol or taken drugs shouldn’t then complain about being raped.
Fact: In law, consent must be fully and freely given by someone with the capacity to do so. If a person is unconscious or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, they are unable to give their consent to sex. Having sex with a person who is incapacitated through alcohol or drugs is therefore rape. No-one asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted; 100% of the responsibility lies with the perpetrator.
Myth: It’s only rape if someone is physically forced into sex and has the injuries to show for it.
Fact: Sometimes people who are raped sustain internal and/or external injuries and sometimes they don’t. Rapists will sometimes use weapons or threats of violence to prevent a physical struggle or sometimes they will take advantage of someone who isn’t able to consent, because they are drunk or asleep for example. Many people who are sexually attacked are unable to move or speak from fear and shock. Just because someone doesn’t have visible injuries doesn’t mean they weren’t raped.
Myth: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to commit sexual violence.
Fact: There is no typical rapist. People who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group.
Myth: Once a man is sexually aroused he cannot help himself. He has to have sex.
Fact: Men can quite easily control their urges to have sex; they do not need to rape someone to satisfy them. Rape is an act of violence and control, not sexual gratification.
Myth: People often lie about being raped because they regret having sex with someone or out of spite or for attention.
Fact: Disproportionate media focus on false rape allegations perpetuates the public perception that lying about sexual violence is common when in fact the opposite is true. False allegations of rape are very rare. The vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason for this is the fear of not being believed.
Myth: People who were sexually abused as children are likely to become abusers themselves.
Fact: This is a dangerous myth, offensive and unhelpful to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which is sometimes used to explain or excuse the behaviour of those who rape and sexually abuse children. The vast majority of those who are sexually abused as children will never perpetrate sexual violence against others. There is no excuse or explanation for sexual violence against children or adults.
Myth: Men don’t get raped and women don’t commit sexual offences.
Fact: The majority of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men against women and children but a small number of women do perpetrate sexual violence. Often people who’ve been sexually assaulted or abused by a woman are particularly fearful that they will not be believed or that their experiences won’t be considered ‘as bad’ as being raped by a man. This can make it especially difficult for these survivors to access services or justice.
With thanks to Rape Crisis England and Wales.