Rape myths are widely held, inaccurate beliefs about rape.
Myths of rape give people a false sense of security by legitimizing sexual assault or denying that it even occurs. They often do this by blaming the victim for their experience or making excuses and minimizing their assault. In effect, these myths perpetuate sexual assault by not addressing the realities of rape.
Sexual assault is experienced by Canadian women everyday at home, at work, at school, or on the street. A 1993 survey found that one half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. Almost 60% of these women were the targets of more than one of these incidents. (Statistics Canada, “The Violence Against Women Survey,” The Daily, November 18, 1993).
Statistics also show that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In BC this number is almost double (47%) (J. Brickman and J. Briere, “Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault in an Urban Canadian Population,” The International Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 7, no. 3, 1984).
Acquaintance sexual assault is the most under reported crime in Canada. Only 6% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. As well, false accusations of rape happen no more often than false reports of other types of crime: about 2 to 4%, which means 96 to 98% of the reports are true (Source: University of Alberta “Sexual Assault and the Law in Canada”).
Sexual assault is not most often committed by strangers who jump out of bushes or wait in alleys for their victims. Over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
Most assaults occur in a private home (60%) and the largest percentage of these occur in the victim’s home (38%) (D. Kinnon, “Report on Sexual Assault in Canada,” Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Ottawa, 1981).
Reports show that there is a lot of diversity in the way women who are assaulted act and dress. Any woman of any age and physical type, in almost any situation can be sexually assaulted. The number one thing convicted rapists report looking for in a victim is vulnerability, not appearance. This myth takes the responsibility of the rape away from the rapist and shifts it to the victim. No one asks to be hurt in this way.
Women from two months old to ninety years old have been sexually assaulted. According to previous accounts of rape, rapists chose women based on their vulnerability, not on their physical appearance.
The majority of convicted rapists assaulted for the emotion gratification they received from the violent act, not out of sexual frustration (Helen Lenskyj, “An Analysis of Violence Against Women: A Manual for Educators and Administrators,” Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1992).
Rape is an act of violence; it involves asserting control over another person and taking their power from them. Rapists use a person’s sexuality against their will as a weapon. Rapists are not men who cannot control their sexual desires; rape is most often a premeditated crime.
Rapists come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age, and social group. As well, women who are sexually assaulted are from every economic, ethnic, racial, age, and social group.
Sexual assault is any unwanted act of a sexual nature that one person imposes on another. A weapon and visible physical injuries do not have to be present in order for a woman’s experience to be sexual assault.
A recent survey of Canadian women found that 9 out of 10 incidents of violence against women have an emotional effect on the victim (Statistics Canada, “The Violence Against Women Survey,” The Daily, November 18, 1993).
It is important to remember that, although reactions like anger, mistrust, and sadness are common, not all women experience the same emotions or express them in the same way. Because a woman does not feel or act a certain way does not mean that her experience of sexual assault was not legitimate.
Sexual assault within relationships has been illegal in Canada since 1983, however many people still do not recognize it as a crime. Even within a relationship, each partner must give consent each time sexual relations occur.
As well, just because a woman is in a relationship with someone or has sex with a person before does not mean that person cannot assault her. Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact.
A woman can also be assaulted by someone who she has been intimate with in the past. Consent must be freely given each time two people are intimate with each other.
A woman is not obligated to have sex at any time.
A man’s desire is not more important than a woman’s right to choose who she does and does not have sex with.
When a woman says “no”, her partner should stop; he should never assume that “no” means anything else but “no”. If someone is unclear about what the partner wants, they should ask. The onus for obtaining consent is on the person initiating sexual contact. Ignorance or pleading misunderstanding is not a legitimate legal defense for sexual assault.
Having sex with a woman when she is drunk is sexual assault.
The attacker is responsible for their actions no matter how intoxicated they are. Being drunk is not an excuse to force sex on anyone legally. Being drunk is not an acceptable legal defense an accused rapist can use.
Women of all ages from infancy to old age are survivors of sexual assault. However, most women who are assaulted are between the ages of 14 and 24.
A woman is in control of her fantasies; however, women are not in control when they are being sexually assaulted. Rape is a violent, terrorizing, and often humiliating experience that no woman wants or asks for.
Rapists will often choose victims they believe they can physically overcome.
This myth is used to blame the victim; it is important to remember that no matter what a woman does during an assault, whether she chooses to physically resist or not, it is not her fault. She did what she had to in order to get out of a very difficult experience alive.
Sexual assault has one of the highest violent crimes committed in Canada. However close to 9 out of 10 women hurt by sexual assault choose not to report. Women choose not to report for many reasons including re-victimization by the police and courts, because they fear their rapist, because they feel ashamed and guilty. At WAVAW we support women in their decisions whether they decide to report or not to report.
It is important to remember that, although reactions like anger, mistrust, and sadness are common, not all women experience the same emotions or express them in the same way. How a woman responds after a sexual assault can be influenced by factors such as her cultural background, whether she knows her attacker or not, her support system, how she views her experience, etc. Because a woman does not feel or act a certain way does not mean that her experience of sexual assault was not legitimate.
This does not make the experience less of an assault; nor does it mean that a woman will not have any negative effects from her assault.
However, most sexual assaults that occur are against women and are perpetrated by men.