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Rape: Myths and Realities


Every nine minutes around the clock a woman is raped in this country. The FBI estimates that only one in ten of these rapes are ever reported to the police. There are many reasons for the alarming disparity between the number of rapes that actually occur, those reported, and the number of convictions. The most important factor is the presence of widely held false beliefs (myths) about rape, the victim, and the rapist.

These myths are present at all levels of society, and create obstacles for the victim, with her family, law enforcement, hospital and medical personnel, and society in general. Accepting false beliefs about rape can not only hurt victims, but can place others at risk due to a lack of understanding of the crime. A woman who has been raped faces skepticism in others due to false beliefs. This can cause her to doubt herself and her own memory of what happened to her.

Accepting some of the myths about rape can place you in danger of becoming a victim. Believing that rape only happens to a certain kind of person, or only in large cities far away, can make you feel safe in potentially dangerous situations. Thinking, “It could never happen to me,” may make you feel safe, but it isn’t true, and may keep you from seeing any danger.

Myths about Rape

Here are some common myths about rape. Please keep in mind that they are ALL FALSE.

  • Any woman could prevent rape if she really wanted to. No woman can be raped against her will.
  • Rapists are easy to spot. They are abnormal perverts. Only insane men rape women.
  • Rape is an impulsive act, an uncontrollable act of sexual gratification.
  • If a woman has consented to sexual relations in the past with a man, she cannot be raped by that man in the future.
  • A man has to show a woman whose boss right from the start. A woman will only respect a man who will lay down the law to her.
  • Some women deserve to be raped because of the way they dress, act, etc. They cause a man to “lose control.”
  • Women say “NO” when they really mean “YES”.
  • Rape is no big deal if the woman has had sex previously.

Myths (and Facts) about Sexual Assault

Myth:“It can't happen to me.” Rape is an isolated, infrequent event that only happens to certain kinds of people: attractive, young women who are promiscuous or provocative.

Fact: Anyone can be sexually assaulted. Studies show that victims include infants to people in their nineties, people of color, lesbians/gays, people with disabilities, and people from every racial, ethnic, religious, economic and social background. According to a study published by the National Victim Center and the Center for Crime Victims Treatment and Research (1992), approximately 683,000 American women were forcibly raped in 1990. Averaged over time, this comes to 1.3 rapes each minute; 78 each hour; 1,871 each day; 56,916 each month; and 683,00 each year. When the number of female children and males assaulted during that same period are added, it is likely that well over twice that many Americans were sexually assaulted.

Myth: “She asked for it.” Women often provoke rape by their own behavior: wearing low-cut or tight clothing, going out alone, staying out late, being drunk, using drugs, kissing, etc.

Fact: No one asks to be sexually assaulted. Nor does anyone’s behavior justify or excuse the crime. People have a right to be safe from a sexual violation at any time, any place and under any circumstances. The offender, not the survivor, must be held responsible for this crime.

Myth: “Most offenders are African-American men.

Fact: Over 90% of sexual assaults occur between people of the same ethnic or racial background. The myth of the black rapist is rooted to the racist history of our country.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers at night in out-of-the-way places.

Fact: Familiar people and safe places are more dangerous. As many as 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows (FBI). Over 50% of sexual assaults occur in the home and as many occur during the daytime as happen at night.

Myth: Women frequently “cry rape.”

Fact: Women don’t lie about rape. The FBI reports that false accusations account for only 2% of all reported sexual assaults. This is no higher than false reports for any other crime.

Myth: Only women can be raped.

Fact: It is currently estimated by the FBI that one out of ten men are victims of adult sexual assault. Other researchers have found that between one out of four and one out of seven male children are sexually abused.

Myth: The best way for survivors to get over a sexual assault is to act like it didn’t happen, to put it behind them, get on with their lives and be “normal” again.

Fact: Speaking out about sexual assault might be an essential part of the recovery process for survivors. However, no survivor should ever be forced to speak, publicly or privately, before they are ready, every survivor is the expert on their own recovery. For many, recovery becomes an ongoing process of healing, change and empowerment. All survivors have a right to support and validation from friends, family and service providers, no matter where they are in their individual healing process or how long ago the assault occurred.

Myths and Facts about Male Rape

In the past ten years, reports of men being raped have been on the increase. As more male survivors come forward and speak of their experiences, and more articles are published in newspapers and journals, public recognition of male rape has begun to increase and more crisis centers have begun to offer services for male survivors.

Because of the way men are trained/socialized not to ask for help, expect themselves to be in control at all times, and be active in sexual encounters, male survivors are often reluctant to talk to anyone about their victimization, much less report it to the police. A man who openly acknowledges being raped is violating everything we are taught to expect men to be.

The reluctance to report male report is reinforced by the scanty public awareness of the crimes and scarcity of services for male survivors. Emergency room doctors don’t question the source of injuries to male patients. Police don’t look for behavioral signs of sexual assault in men reporting muggings or robberies. This combination of personal and collective denial creates a circle of silence. Because male rape survivors aren’t finding the emotional resources to make their victimization known, people assume they don’t exist.

There is the mistaken belief that men and women have different needs after being assaulted. Although it is true that outreach programs specifically tailored to men are needed to reach male survivors, there is a common human response to rape. Shame, guilt, self-hatred, fear, problems with physical intimacy, and anger are common responses of both male and female survivors. All survivors need to know that they are not alone with their pain, that healing is possible, and that whatever the circumstances the rape was not their fault. Survivors need someone who will care enough to listen without judging them. As is the case with female survivors, there are many commonly held misconceptions about male rape and its survivors that add to the trauma survivors suffer and that encourage silence.

Myth: Men can defend themselves.

Fact: Men are often attacked by gangs, assaulted with weapons, and taken by surprise. Drugs and alcohol are sometimes used to incapacitate victims. Physical strength is not always sufficient protection when faced with what is experienced as a life-threatening situation.

Myth: Male rape is homosexual rape.

Fact: Rape is about power and control, not about sex. Male rape says nothing of the sexual orientation of either the survivor or the perpetrator. Perpetrators of male rape usually identify themselves as heterosexual in their consensual sexual activities.

Myth: Male rape only happens in prison.

Fact: Most male survivors were raped as children or as adults who were never incarcerated.

More Myths about the Crime

Myth and Fact
“Most rapes are reported.”,
Only one rape in ten is reported.

“Sexual assaults occur only among strangers.”
More than one-half of all reported rapes are acquaintances rapes; that the rape is committed by a person known to the victim.

“Rapes occur in back alleys and bars.”
The most common location of rape is in the victim’s home. One-half of all rapes occur in private residences.

“Legalizing prostitution would limit rapes.”
Sexual gratification is not the motive for rape. Rape is primarily a crime of violence and power.

“Most rapes involve black men raping white women.”
In 93% of rapes, the rapist and the victim are of the same race. Only 3% of reported rapes involve black men and white women, and only 4% involve white men and black women.

“Rape is a woman’s problem.”
Rape is a social problem involving both men and women.

“It is easy to prosecute rapists.”
The vast majority of rapists are not tried at all, or are charged with lesser offenses.

“Rape only occurs in large urban areas.”
Sexual assault happens in every area, whether rural, urban, or suburban.

“Rape affects only a few women and is only a minor offense.”
It is estimated that one-half million women are raped in the United States every year.

“A woman cannot be raped by her husband.”
No one has the “right” to another person’s body against her or his will. Rape is not a marital right.

Myths about the Victim

Myth:Women ask to be raped when they dress provocatively.

Fact:Rape is not a crime motivated by sexual gratification, but by power and violence. No one has the “right” to another person’s body or to force others into an act against their will. A woman always has the right to say no and not to be raped.

Myth:Women enjoy rape or want to be raped.

Fact:Rape is a crime of violence, often involving serious injury and trauma. Rape is a brutal, humiliating, and degrading act against a woman’s body and person.

Myth:Nice girls do not get raped.

Fact:Women do not choose to be raped. All types of women are attacked by rapists---all social and economic classes, all races and all ages.

Myth:Any woman can prevent a rape if she really tries.

Fact:Most rapes carry at least an implicit fear of death and injury. Many women can escape a rape by fighting back, screaming, or running, but when a woman is raped, she is NOT responsible.

Myth:Only young, beautiful women are raped.

Fact:Rapists do not choose their victims on the basis of physical attractiveness. Infants, elderly women, and females of all ages in between have been victims of rape.

Fact vs. Fiction

Fiction: All rapists are strangers who attack women in dark alleys at night.
Fact: Many rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, often in her own home.

Fiction: Rape is a product of uncontrollable sexual desire.
Fact: Rape is an act of violence. It is motivated by anger, aggression and the need to dominate and control another person---not motivated by a need to have sex.

Fiction: Some women deserve to be raped because of the way they dress or act, or the places they go alone at night. They cause a man to lose control.
Fact: No woman ever deserves to be raped. A man is responsible for his own actions, and has no right to assault a woman for any reason.

Fiction: Women want to know whose boss. They want the man to be in control.
Fact: Women want to be respected and treated as equal.

Fiction: If a woman has had sex with a man in the past, she cannot be raped by that man in the future.
Fact: Rape exists when she is forced to have sex against her will, regardless of the history of the relationship. Because a woman has had consenting sex with a man does not mean that she will have sex with him anytime he wants, or for the rest of her life.

Fiction: Women say “NO” when they really mean, “YES”.
Fact: When a woman says “NO” she means, NO. Men often use this erroneous conclusion to justify forcing sex on a woman.

Fiction: Any woman could prevent rape if she really wanted to, no woman can be raped against her will.
Fact: Most women fear for their lives when they are being raped. Just because a woman is physically overpowered by the rapist does not mean she wants to be raped or is enjoying it.

Fiction: Rape is no big deal if the woman has had sex previously.
Fact: Rape is always a big deal. It’s always against the law. If she doesn’t want to have sex with a man, it’s rape, no matter what happened in the past.

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