Sexual Assault

 

MYTHS AND [FACTS]

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1. The primary motive for rape is sexual.

Myth. The motive for rape is aggression and power, not sex. Rapists have a desire to dominate, humiliate, and degrade their victims. The overwhelming majority of rapists use unnecessary force with weapons and/or the threat of physical violence to coerce their victims into submission. Rape is not the result of "pent up" sexual desire. Many rapists report that they do not enjoy the sex act during the rape. In fact, most rapists have access to a normal sexual relationship with a partner.
 

2. Women are sexually assaulted because they "ask for it."

Myth. Society attempts to shift the burden of blame from the assailant to the victim by implying that "she asked for it." Being a victim has no connection to one’s dress or "provocative manner." This apparent shift of blame directs attention to the victim’s behavior and away from the offender’s actions, thereby absolving the assailant of his responsibility for the attack.

 

3. Sexual assault cannot happen to a respectable woman.

Myth. Any woman can be sexually assaulted, regardless of her age, appearance, social status, or race.

 

4. A woman can prevent sexual assault by resisting her attacker.

Myth. Resistance may increase one’s chances of injury and perhaps result in death. Every sexual assault is unique, and the issue of resistance and submission should be evaluated individually. The victim must do whatever she can to get through the situation and survive. The victim should rely on her instincts, and whatever she does to survive is correct for her. Even if she must submit, this does not imply consent and, in fact, may keep her alive.

 

5. Most women actually enjoy rape.

Myth. Most women enjoy consensual sexual relationships, but rape is neither sexual or consensual. Women do not enjoy being raped; however, a woman’s "seduction" fantasy is frequently confused with the supposed enjoyment of rape. There are important differences. At the fantasy level, the woman is in control of her scenario, actions, and actors. During a sexual assault, however, the woman is not in control of the characters, the events, or her body. In fact, many victims report that the primary emotions they felt during the attack were fear for their lives, humiliation, intimidation, and degradation.

 

6. Most sexual assaults are interracial.

Myth. Almost all sexual assaults occur between members of the same race. Interracial rape is not common, but it does occur. When it occurs, white victims tend to report black assailants more frequently than white assailants, and a disproportionate number of black offenders are convicted. Black victims tend to underreport assaults, especially if the offender is white. The myth that black men rape white women may be perpetuated by the publicity afforded to those assaults that fit cultural and racial stereotypes.

 

7. Rape is not a big deal; it’s only sex.

Myth. Rape is a big deal, and it is illegal. It is not committed between consenting adults but is forced and violent. In fact, rape victims have more in common with victims of other serious crimes such as physical assault, burglary, and attempted murder than with partners in a consenting sexual relationship.

 

8. Men cannot be sexually assaulted.

Myth. Men can be, and are, sexually assaulted, although the incidence of male sexual assault is estimated to be much less when compared to the incidence rate for women. When assaulted, men tend not to report the assault as frequently as women. They prefer to avoid the dilemmas of reporting and prosecuting that are traditionally experienced by women; to escape the additional trauma of others doubting their sexual orientation; and to repress their fears and concerns about their own masculinity and sexual preference.

 

9. Most sexual assault victims react hysterically.

Myth. Individual responses to a sexual assault are as varied as the individuals themselves and may appear immediately or may be delayed. One’s reaction to an event depends on many factors including personality, experience with similar events in the past, intensity of the event, and reactions of others. Reactions range from being very emotional to calm, rational behavior, with the majority of victims appearing stunned and bewildered. Reports from women who react in a calm, rational manner are frequently dismissed and discounted because these women do not exhibit stereotypical responses.

 

10. A woman’s past sexual history is admissible in a sexual assault trial.

Myth. A woman’s past sexual history is no longer admissible in court. In the past, the woman’s prior sexual history was used to displace attention from the assailant onto the victim.

 

11. Only the young and beautiful are sexually assaulted.

Myth. Victims range in age from a few months to 90 years of age and come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Victims tend to be chosen for their vulnerability and availability, without regard for their physical appearance. The attribution of sexual assault to the victim’s attractiveness is perpetuated by the myth that rape is a sexual act, and again, blame and responsibility are placed on the victim.

 

12. Many women "cry rape" to protect their reputation or seek revenge on a lover.

Myth. False reports of rape are rare. Most women do not volunteer to disclose the intimate details of a sexual assault, for public record, if the event did not occur.

 

13. Sexual assault only occurs in dark alleys and isolated areas.

Myth. A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. In fact, surprisingly high numbers of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought safe, such as homes, cars, and offices. Often, a rapist will manipulate a victim to gain access to a "safe" place because this location reduces his chances of being apprehended. Also, women tend to avoid stereotypically dangerous situations such as dark alleys and isolated areas; hence, higher proportions of assaults happen in "safe" places.

 

14. The physician, after examination of the victim, determines if a sexual assault took place.

Myth. Sexual assault is a legal definition, not medical. The judgment of sexual assault is made by the courts. Physicians furnish medical reports and impressions for the court’s decision. They do not have the authority to decide if the victim was assaulted. Regardless of the legal outcome, if the victim perceives herself as having been violated, the experience is a significant event in her life and should be treated as such.

 

15. A woman cannot be raped by her husband.

Myth. This myth has its roots in the concept that a woman is the private property of her husband and is consequently at his sexual disposal. Although the laws vary, marital rape is now a criminal offense in most states; however, this is still probably one of the most difficult types of sexual assaults to prove.

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[MYTHS] AND FACTS

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1. Sexual assaults are usually planned.

Fact. Most sexual assaults are planned in advance by the assailant. The act is premeditated, but the specific victim tends to be chosen at random based on her availability and vulnerability.

 

2. Most reported sexual assaults are true.

Fact. Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. FBI crime statistics indicate that, of assaults reported, only 2% are false (Brownmiller, 1975); this is comparable to other major crime reports. The perception of false reporting may be based on low conviction rates for sexual offenders. Low conviction rates result from insufficient evidence to prosecute, dismissal of trial due to technicalities, and reluctance of victims to testify. For these reasons, low conviction rates do not imply false reporting.

 

3. Many sexual assaults are committed by an assailant known to the victim.

Fact. The victim is acquainted with her assailant in approximately 50% of reported sexual assaults. Authorities estimate this percentage to be even greater for unreported assaults. Many victims tend not to report an assault by a family member, lover, date, or acquaintance, believing that only assaults committed by strangers are sexual offenses. Other reasons for the reluctance to report this type of assault include feelings of embarrassment, shame, or self-blame; fear of gossip; emotional ambivalence toward the assailant; and concern about problematic prosecution. The voluntary association between victim and assailant tends to raise doubts and to elicit less sympathy than an assault involving a stranger. Society is less likely to acknowledge a sexual assault of this type because of preconceived notions and myths about "real" rape and traditional sex role stereotypes ("she says no when she means yes"). These suppositions are reinforced through the media and by cultural images concerning sexual interaction.

 

4. Most parents who sexually abuse their children have a history of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or neglect during their own childhood.

Fact. Many factors are involved in the sexual abuse of children. One of the most common factors is a history of abuse in the parent’s background. Abusive parents have an incidence of prior sexual or physical abuse much greater than that of the general population.

 

5. The younger the victim, the more likely that the assailant is well known to the family or is a family member.

Fact. As children, victims are taught to trust family members and close family friends who will protect them. Abusing adults violate the trust of younger victims. Children should be encouraged to follow their "gut" feelings in this type of situation before they become victims. They need to know the differences between "good" and "bad" touches and to be encouraged to say "no" to inappropriate behavior.

 

6. Most sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

Fact. Although estimates of reported sexual assaults vary, sources agree that a very low percentage, for example, fewer than one third, is actually reported. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration estimates that there are 3.36 sexual assaults committed for each one reported (McCahill, Meyers, & Fischman, 1979). In a random sample of women in San Francisco, Russell (1984) found that only 8% of women who were assaulted filed reports. Based on these statistics, one can conclude that sexual assaults remain unreported to a vast degree.


7. Most sexual assaults occur during summer months.

Fact. Sexual assaults tend to increase during warmer months and to decrease during colder months. The potential for assault increases during warmer months because summer lifestyles increase a woman’s accessibility outside of "safe" places; windows and doors are opened for ventilation; and victims and assailants wear less clothing. Thus, the assault takes less time and the possibility for apprehension decreases during warmer months.

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Please note that the majority of sexual assault victims are female. The above myths and facts reflect this; however, we recognize that males are also victims of sexual assault. Reactions to the assault will be similar for a male victim.