The Role of 'Myths About Sexual Assault'
Myths perpetuate messages that:
- blame victims for the offences committed against them
- protect offenders from the consequences of their actions
- reinforce the vulnerability of women and children.
Common Myths About Sexual Assault
Myth: Sexual assault, especially rape, is an unusual occurence - it can't happen to me
Reality: One in three women will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives (Fergusson & Mullen, 1999).
Myth: Men only sexually assault young, sexually 'attractive' women.
Reality: Sexual assault is not about sex. It is a crime about power and domination.
Myth: Children lie about incest.
Reality: Children do not lie about sexual assault. This myth protects society's inability to deal with, regard and accept the common reality of sexual assault of children within families.
Myth: Women 'cry rape'.
Reality: Police statistics reveal that 'false' reporting of sexual assault is minimal, representing 2% to 7% of all reported assaults. These statistics also include statements withdrawn by victim/survivors due to fear of revenge and the impact of the legal system.
Myth: Women enjoy being raped.
Reality: This myth reduces rape to an experience which is trivial and inconsequential. Sexual assault is an experience of violation, and terror, that has both short and long term consequences for victim/survivors.
Myth: Incest is not really harmful; it is the outcome of a loving relationship. Any resulting harm comes from disclosure.
Reality: Over 94% of all childhood survivors described negative short and long term effects of the abuse. Research indicates that the most effective response at the time of disclosure is belief of the child, and prompt, appropriate action.
Myth: Sibling incest is not harmful.
Reality: Community attitudes commonly regard sibling incest as a part of normal development and sexual exploration. However the distinction between sexual assault and exploration rests with the degree to which both parties have equal control and power over the situation. This can only be defined by the victim/survivor.
Myth: Women who are raped want, and ask to be raped.
Reality: No woman asks to be raped. This myth wrongly locates responsibility with the victim/survivor and away from the rapist.
Myth: Women can avoid being raped by dressing sensibly and not going out alone at night.
Reality: Over 50% of rapes occur either in the offender's home or in the victim's home. There is no causal link between women's clothing and social behaviour and crimes of violence.
Myth: Most rapists are strangers.
Reality: 80% of rapists are known to the victim.
Myth: Children are sexually provocative.
Reality: Children are unable, according to criminal law, to give consent. This myth blames the child and again shifts responsibility from the offender.
Myth: Rape is a sexual act.
Reality: Rape is an act of power, hostility and aggression resulting in severe humiliation and control of the victim.
Myth: Mothers collude in and encourage incest, thereby avoiding some of their responsibilities as wives.
Reality: The offender chooses to commit the crime of incest, and his actions are totally his own responsibility.
Myth: Sexual assault, especially rape, is perpetrated by psychologically disturbed, sex-crazed 'madmen'.
Reality: Rapists are men from all socio-economic classes, professions and nationalities.
Myth: Child sexual assault is perpetrated by 'dirty old men'.
Reality: 71% of sex offenders are younger than 35 years old.
Myth: Men rape because they cannot control their sexual urges.
Reality: There is no medical evidence to substantiate that men biologically have uncontrollable sexual urges.
Myth: Incest predominantly takes place in 'dysfunctional families'.
Reality: Research indicates there is little which distinguishes between families where incest takes place and families where incest does not occur.
Myth: Incest is accepted in other cultures.
Reality: All cultures have an 'incest taboo'. Incest is not acceptable on a global level, under any circumstances.
Each of these myths enforces the silence which surrounds sexual assault and, in so doing impacts on victim/survivors.
CASA House challenges these myths through information, counselling and advocating for legislative and policy reform to uphold women's rights and entitlements.