What do statements like “she really wanted it,” “no way he was assaulted” and “ho’s like that deserve it” have in common? They’re all rape myths—and they’re just a few of the stereotypical, prejudicial and generally false beliefs people have about rape and sexual assault.
Rape myths exist for a number of historical and cultural reasons, including gender role expectations, acceptance of violence and misinformation about sexual assault, and they’re one reason why so many rape victims are shamed into remaining silent.
The best way to confront a rape myth when you hear one is honestly. And to do that, you have to know the facts.
Myth: Rape and sexual assault are about sexual attraction and gratification.
Fact: Rape and sexual assault are all about control and domination.
Myth: A healthy person can resist being raped or sexually assaulted.
Fact: According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 6 adult women has been a victim of rape, and approximately 92,700 men are raped in the U.S. each year. Healthy and strong people are raped every day. Rape victims are doctors, lawyers, nurses, military personnel, cooks, accountants, students—anyone and everyone could be vulnerable to rape or sexual assault.
Myth: When it comes to sex, men can be provoked to “a point of no return.”
Fact: Men are physically able to stop at any point during sexual activity. Rape is not an act of impulsive, uncontrollable passion; it is a premeditated act of violence. Research shows that 50% of rapes are planned.
Myth: If a woman goes to her date’s room on the first date, it implies she is willing to have sex.
Fact: Nothing is ever implied. Date rapes comprise 50 to 75% of all reported rapes. The best way to prevent a bad situation is to communicate. If things get hot and heavy and you’re not sure what the other person wants, just ask. Some people feel talking may ruin “the mood.” But doing something without consent is rape—and that’s a real mood killer!
Myth: Rape is usually violent and involves a stranger.
Fact: Actually around 73% of all rapes and 90% of rapes on college campuses are committed by someone the victim knows. Many rapes involve force or the threat of force, but some rapes are committed when the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even asleep! Sex against someone’s will is rape under any circumstances.
Myth: When a woman dresses provocatively, she’s asking for trouble.
Fact: Rapists look for easy, vulnerable targets. Thinking that women provoke attacks against them by the way they dress transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Research shows that this particular myth helps others feel better because they think that rape couldn’t happen to them.
Myth: It’s not really rape when a woman changes her mind in the middle of a sexual activity.
Fact: A woman can change her mind at any time. Say you want to stop, say no or simply say you’ve changed your mind. A respectful partner does not want to do something that you don’t want to do.
Myth: Only attractive women are raped.
Fact: Anyone can be raped. Children, the elderly and people with physical and mental disabilities are easy targets of rape because of their vulnerability. Men, gay and straight alike, can and do get raped. Rape is not about passion or uncontrollable lust. It’s about control over another person and it’s an opportunistic act of violence. Heterosexual men are responsible for the majority of all rapes.
Myth: Anyone who is drunk or high and being a flirt gets what they deserve.
Fact: Being drunk or high is risky behavior that could have many dangerous consequences. Rape is just one of them. People who are “loaded” are also less likely to use protection and more likely to have sex or be coerced into having sex with someone they don’t know. The bottom line: regardless of a person’s behavior, no one deserves to be raped. Furthermore, people who commit crimes while “under the influence” are still responsible for their actions.
Myth: Women fantasize about being raped.
Fact: Some women have sexual fantasies about having aggressive sex with a stranger or being “forced” into performing certain sexual acts, but they can stop the fantasy when it becomes too frightening. During a real rape, the victim is powerless to stop anything.
Myth: If a person doesn’t fight back, she or he wasn’t really raped.
Fact: Rape can be life threatening, particularly when a rapist uses a weapon or force to accomplish penetration. Submission is not the same as cooperation. Whatever a person does to survive is the appropriate action.
Myth: There are a lot of false rape reports.
Fact: The false report rate for rape is similar to other false felony reports. The FBI estimates that about 2% of reported rapes are false.
Myth: Most people report rape or sexual assault to the police.
Fact: The truth is that rape and sexual assault are two of the most underreported crimes in our society. Estimates show that between 50–90% of rapes go unreported. Factoring unreported rapes together with the odds of an arrest being made and the chances of getting a felony conviction, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. In other words: 15 of 16 rapists walk free.
For more information about Rape Myths & Facts, go to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.