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Myths about sexual violence

There are a number of myths and misconceptions about sexual violence.   These myths are often widely believed.  They can undermine the trauma experienced by victims, suggest that victims may be to blame for what has happened to them and contribute to perpetuating sexual violence.  CARA seeks to challenge the myths and misconceptions around sexual violence whenever possible.


Some of the most common myths about sexual violence are:


Myth: Rape is most likely to be happen outside, after dark, and to be perpetrated by a stranger.

Reality:  Only around 10% of rapes are committed by strangers

Around 90% of rapes are committed by men known to the victim, and often by someone who the survivor has previously trusted or even loved. 60% of victims are attacked inside a building and 31% inside their own home. Rapists are often friends, colleagues, clients, neighbours, family members, partners or exes of the victim.


Myth:   Victims are raped because they get drunk and dress provocatively, or because they are attractive

Reality:   People of all ages and appearances, and of all classes, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, races and religions, are raped. 

Rape is never the victims fault.  Sex without consent is rape and the man has responsibility for ensuring that he only has sex with someone who is clear in their consent, regardless of how they are dressed, how they look or how they behave. 

In law, consent must be fully and freely given by someone with the capacity to do so. If a person is unconscious or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, they are unable to give their consent to sex. Having sex with a person who is incapacitated through alcohol or drugs is therefore rape. No-one asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted; 100% of the responsibility lies with the perpetrator.


Myth: Women “play hard to get.”  They may say no when they mean yes.

Reality:  When women say no, they mean no. Sex without consent is rape.


Myth: It's only rape if someone is physically forced into sex and has the injuries to show for it.

Reality: Sometimes people who are raped sustain internal and/or external injuries and sometimes they don't. 

Rapists will sometimes use weapons or threats of violence to prevent a physical struggle, or sometimes they will take advantage of someone who isn't able to consent, because they are drunk or asleep for example. Many people who are sexually attacked are unable to move or speak from fear and shock. Just because someone doesn't have visible injuries doesn't mean they weren't raped.


Myth: Victims often lie about being raped because they regret having sex with someone, or out of spite, or for attention.

Reality: Disproportionate media focus on false rape allegations perpetuates the public perception that lying about sexual violence is common when in fact the opposite is true.

False allegations of rape are very rare. The vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason for this is the fear of not being believed.


Myth:  Rape is a crime of sexual needs or uncontrollable urges.

Reality:  Men can, and do control their sexual urges. 

Rape is a crime of violence, control, degradation and intimidation.  Most rapes are carefully planned.


Myth: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to commit sexual violence or child sexual abuse.

Reality: There is no typical rapist.   There is no typical abuser.

People who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, age and social group. 


Myth:  Only women are victims of rape and sexual abuse, and only men are abusers.

Reality:  Men are also raped and sexually assaulted.

The majority of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men against women and children, but a small number of women do perpetrate sexual violence. Often people who've been sexually assaulted or abused by a woman are particularly fearful that they will not be believed or that their experiences won't be considered 'as bad' as being raped by a man. This can make it especially difficult for these survivors to access services or justice.


Myth:  Boys and men who have been sexually abused will go on to perpetrate sexual abuse.

Reality: The vast majority of boys and men who have been sexually abused do not go on to commit sexual abuse themselves.

There is no direct link between experiencing sexual abuse and becoming an abuser.  Most men who have been abused know only too well the distress caused by abuse and are horrified by the suggestion. The fear that others will see them as  potential ‘abusers’ is a major obstacle to men telling anyone about the sexual abuse they suffered.

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