Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Survivors of Sexual Assault Handbook

Several myths exist about sexual assault.  These myths often shift responsibility and blame from the assailant to the victim.  Understanding the myths surrounding sexual assault may help you in your recovery.  What happened to you was a crime.  You are not to blame for the assailant’s behavior.

Myth:  Rape is caused by the perpetrator’s uncontrollable sexual urge.

Fact: Rape is an act of power and control, not sex.

In addition, 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 was simply desiring sex, and just "took it too far".

This mentality 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.

Myth:  Individuals who commit rape are mentally ill or psychotic and cannot help themselves.

Fact:  Very few perpetrators are mentally incompetent and/or out of touch with reality.  Rapes may be planned or carried out by acquaintances, intimate partners, family members or strangers.

Myth:  The victim must have “asked for it” by being seductive, careless, drunk, high, etc.

Fact:  No one asks to be abused, injured, or humiliated.  This line of thought blames the victim for what happened instead of the perpetrator who chose to commit the crime.  Individuals of all ages, all genders, and all walks of life, have been targets of sexual assault.  Not one of them “caused” their assailant to commit a crime against them.

Myth: If you wouldn’t have been drinking, you wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.

Fact:  Alcohol is a weapon that some perpetrators use to control their victim and render them helpless.  As part of their plan, an assailant may 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 perpetrators use.

Myth:  If the victim did not physically struggle with or fight the assailant, it wasn’t really rape.

Fact:  Assailants are not looking for a fight and they use many forms of coercion, threats, and manipulation to rape.  Alcohol and other drugs such as Rohypnol are often used to incapacitate victims.

Michigan law defines sexual assault by the action of the perpetrator, not the victim.  In fact, there is a specific law that says that the victim need not have resisted the perpetrator in order for it to be considered rape.

Myth:  Most perpetrators are strangers to their victims.

Fact:  Most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows: a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner, or ex-partner.

Myth:  Serial rapists are uncommon.

Fact:  Most every perpetrator is a serial rapist, meaning that they choose to use coercion, violence, threats of force, etc., to assault people on a repeated basis.

Myth:  When women say no, they really mean yes.

Fact:  Yes means yes! When someone says yes, s/he is explicitly giving consent. Silence does not equal consent. It is the responsibility of the person initiating or escalating sexual activity to gain consent at each and every level.  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.

Myth:  If someone doesn’t fight off her or his perpetrator, then it is not really rape.

Fact:  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.  

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).

Fact:  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.  

Myth:  The reason that men get raped is because homosexual men are raping them, and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals rape more or are more likely to be sex offenders than heterosexuals.

Fact:  There are no statistics that support the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered 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.  

Myth:  Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals deserve to be raped because of their lifestyle.

Fact:  No one deserves to be raped!  This is an excuse used by perpetrators who commit rape as a hate crime against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individuals.  

Myth:  Sexual assault is often the result of miscommunication or a mistake.

Fact:  Sexual assault is a crime, never simply a mistake.  It does not occur due to a miscommunication between two people. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion.

Myth: It is ok to pressure or talk someone into sexual activity.

Fact: No! This falls into the category of coercion.  Coercion is a tactic used to intimidate trick of force someone to have sex with him or her without physical force.