Societal Rape Myths:
Many myths exist in our society about sexual assault that serve to justify the offense. Rape myths often involve victim-blaming statements about sexual assault such as, "She wouldn’t have gotten raped if she hadn’t been walking alone at night,” or "What did she expect would happen if she went upstairs with him?" These myths help place the blame on the wrong person (the victim or survivor) instead of where it belongs (on the perpetrator).
1. Myth: People rape because they want sex and because they “lose control” or can’t control their sexual desires.
Reality: One of the biggest myths about rape is that it happens out of sexual desire. Sexual assault is highly sexualized in our society due to the link between sex and violence prevalent in our culture. Many people have sexual desires, but not everyone commits sexual assault.
- Survivors of rape are not always those we would consider sexually attractive, such as children or the elderly.
- Most rapists have available sexual relationships.
- By making the issue about sex and not about violence, this crime seems more acceptable and less severe.
- The rapist is allowed then to use the excuse that s/he simply desired sex, and just “took it too far.”
This leads us to blame the victim and not hold the rapist accountable for his or her actions. Also, perpetrators of sexual assault often plan their crimes. Sexual assault is not simply a “crime of passion” where the perpetrator “loses control.” Rather, sexual assault is about power and control. The perpetrator exerts his or her power over the victim in such a way to take away any control the victim has in the sexual situation. A rapist knows that his or her victim does not want or enjoy the sexual contact.
2. Myth: Most rapists are strangers to their victims.
Reality: Most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows: a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner, or ex-partner.
3. Myth: People who rape are psychopaths or mentally ill; they are not part of the normal population.
Reality: The idea that perpetrators are all psychopaths is not true. Crimes committed by the mentally ill are very different from crimes of sexual violence. Those who perpetrate sexual assault are no more or less likely to exhibit signs of mental illness than is the general population.
4. Myth: Women entice men to rape, such as by dressing a certain way or by leading them on.
Reality: The idea that women entice men to rape them or that they really want it is also not true. No person deserves to be raped, and no person asks to be raped or wants it. This myth again shows the extent to which sexual assault is sexualized in our society. Women may experience a sexual assault, no matter what they are wearing, and what the victim was wearing in no way makes her/him responsible for the assault.
5. Myth: If women would just stop drinking so much, they wouldn’t be sexually assaulted.
Reality: Alcohol is a weapon that some rapists use to control their victim and render them helpless. As part of their plan, a rapist will encourage the victim to use alcohol, or identify an individual who is already drunk. Alcohol is not a cause of rape; it is only one of many tools that rapists use.
6. Myth: When women say no, they really mean yes.
Reality: No means no. When someone says no, s/he means no. It should never be assumed that there is some underlying meaning behind that and that s/he really means yes. If you are ever unclear about your partner’s wishes, ask for clarification. If your partner says no or seems unsure, respect that person and her/his wishes.
7. Myth: If someone doesn’t fight off her or his perpetrator, then it is not really rape.
Reality: Some studies have shown that women who fought back were more likely to be seriously injured by their attacker. This threat of heightened physical violence may make it safer for someone to not fight back. This does not mean the sex is consensual. Furthermore, Michigan law defines a sexual assault by the level of force used by the perpetrator, not by the resistance of the victim. This law recognizes that all responsibility for a sexual assault falls on the perpetrator, and victims may or may not choose to fight back physically.
8. Myth: If a man ejaculated when he is assaulted, then it is not really sexual assault (this can also go for anyone who has an orgasm when s/he is sexually assaulted).
Reality: Orgasm does not mean that someone “enjoyed” the sex, or that they wanted it. Orgasm can be a natural biological reaction that someone can’t control; it does not mean that forced or coerced sexual activity was consensual. Often this is used to silence the survivor.
9. Myth: The reason that men get raped is because homosexual men are raping them, and LGB or T individuals rape more or are more likely to be sex offenders than heterosexuals.
Reality: There are no statistics that support the idea that LGB or T individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexuals. In fact, sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual men.