Myths surrounding sexual violence are common and lead to a culture of “victim blaming”. These myths are harmful in that they make a person feel responsible for being sexually assaulted, and it is NEVER a survivors fault. It is due to some of these myths that survivors do not feel comfortable reporting incidences of sexual violence, and leave survivors feeling victimized, judged, and not believed.
Some of the myths, and the corresponding facts include:
Myth: It wasn’t rape, so it wasn’t sexual violence
Fact: Sexual assault and sexual violence encompasses a broad range of unwanted sexual activity. Any unwanted sexual contact is considered to be sexual violence. A survivor can be severely affected by all forms of sexual violence, including unwanted fondling, rubbing, kissing, or other sexual acts. Many forms of sexual violence involve no physical contact, such as stalking or distributing intimate visual recordings. All of these acts are serious and can be damaging.
Myth: Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers.
Fact: Someone known to the victim, including acquaintances, dating partners, and common-law or married partners, commit approximately 75 per cent of sexual assaults.
Myth: Sexual assault is most likely to happen outside in dark, dangerous places.
Fact: The majority of sexual assaults happen in private spaces like a residence or private home.
Myth: It’s not a big deal to have sex with someone while they are drunk, stoned or passed out.
Fact: If a person is unconscious or incapable of consenting due to the use of alcohol or drugs, they cannot legally give consent. Without consent, it is sexual assault.
Myth: If you didn’t say no, it must be your fault.
Fact: People who commit sexual assault/abuse are trying to gain power and control over their victim. They want to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for their victim to say no. A person does not need to actually say the word “no” to make it clear that they did not want to participate. The focus in consent is on hearing a “yes”.
Myth: If a person isn’t crying or visibly upset, it probably wasn’t a serious sexual assault.
Fact: Every person responds to the trauma of sexual assault differently. They may cry or be calm. They may be silent or very angry. A survivor’s behaviour is not an indicator of their experience. It is important not to judge a person by how they responds to an assault.
Myth: If it really happened, the survivor would be able to easily recount all the facts in the proper order.
Fact: Shock, fear, embarrassment and distress can all impair memory. Many survivors attempt to minimize or forget the details of the assault as a way of coping with trauma. Memory loss is common when alcohol and/or drugs are involved.
Myth: Individuals lie and make up stories about being sexually assaulted; and most reports of sexual assault turn out to be false.
Fact: According to Statistics Canada, fewer than one in 10 sexual assault victims report the crime to the police. Approximately 2% of sexual assault reports are false. The number of false reports for sexual assault is very low. Sexual assault carries such a stigma that many people prefer not to report.
Myth: It’s not sexual assault if the couple is dating or married
Fact: Sexual assault can occur in a married or other intimate partner relationship. The truth is, sexual assault occurs ANY TIME there is not consent for sexual activity of any kind. Being in a relationship does not exclude the possibility of, or justify, sexual assault. A person has the right to say “no” at ANY point.
Myth: Sexual assault only happens to women
Fact: The majority of reported sexual assaults are committed against women by men, but people of all genders, from all backgrounds have been/can be assaulted. According to Statistics Canada, six per cent of males 15 or over reported that they had experienced sexual victimization. Survey results from the CDC state that Studies suggest that around half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. Sexual assault/abuse occurs in every economic, ethic, age and social group. However, it is documented to occur at higher rates in communities that experience inter-sectional forms of marginalization.
Myth: They should have fought back
Fact: Saying “no” and/or fighting back are not always possible in situations of sexual assault. Many survivors describe feeling “frozen” and unable to act despite wanting to fight back.
Myth: They shouldn’t have had so much to drink.
Fact: While intoxicated, one cannot consent to sexual activity. Drinking does not imply consent to sexual activity. Most sexual assaults involve planning and pre-meditation, often involving alcohol. This could include putting something in someone’s drink, or simply providing someone with enough alcohol to compromise their judgment.
Myth: They were flirting.
Fact: Flirting does not imply consent to sexual activity.
Myth: They shouldn’t have walked home alone.
Fact: Walking home alone does not imply consent to sexual activity.
Myth: They were “asking for it” by wearing that.
Fact: The way a person dresses does not imply consent to sexual activity. Nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted. Someone has deliberately chosen to be violent toward someone else; to not get consent. Nobody asks to be assaulted. Ever. No mode of dress, no amount of alcohol or drugs ingested, no matter what the relationship is between the survivor and the perpetrator or what the survivor’s occupation is, sexual assault is always wrong.
Myth: They have been sexual with that person before.
Fact: Every sexual act requires consent regardless of whether the two individuals have had a sexual relationship in the past.
Myth: People who drink and/or use drugs are asking to be sexually assaulted.
Fact: A person cannot legally consent to anything, including sex, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Myth: They sleep around anyway.
Fact: Each occasion of sexual activity requires the consent of both parties.
(Information from The Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, Trent University and The Ontario Woman’s Directorate)