Posted by: CeCe | April 14, 2013

Misconceptions of sexual assault

Warning: Some of this may be a trigger for sexual assault survivors.  Please read with caution.

I know I’ve been going on and on about sexual assault lately.  The Steubenville case brought up a lot of memories for me, and commenting on news articles for it showed me that there’s still a rape culture alive and well.  I’ve already addressed this.  But I thought that maybe it was time to attempt to dispel some myths regarding sexual assault, in one post.

Myth #1: Sexual assault is always violent.

When most people think of rape, they think of a masked man jumping out at a woman, beating her, and brutally assaulting her.  This actually is not the case in most instances of sexual assault.  Very few women actually have physical violence inflicted on them while being assaulted.  In fact, according to one site I found, less than 34% of sexual assaults involve visible physical injuries.

Myth #2: Most sexual assaults involve strangers.

This is not true at all.  Most sexual assault survivors (some statistics indicate up to 78%) knew their rapists.  Women (and men) are much more likely to be assaulted by friends, relatives, neighbors, coaches, teachers, pastors or priests, and significant others than strangers.

Myth #3:  Most allegations of sexual assault are made up by women to get revenge on men for one reason or another.

There are two pieces of information that dispel this myth.  First, in nearly every survey done of various police departments all over the country regarding sexual assault cases, only about 2-8% of reported sexual assaults are found to either be completely false or unfounded.  Secondly, most cases of sexual assault are never reported at all.  According to RAINN, about 54% of cases of sexual assault go unreported.

Myth #4:  In most cases, rape victims are dressed provocatively, which invites rape.

This is absolutely false.  In most cases, rapists can’t even recall what their victim was wearing at the time of the assault.  Rape is a crime of both violence and convenience.  It has nothing to do with sexual desire.  In fact, I find this view to be particularly disparaging of men, because what it implies is that men simply can’t control themselves.  As in, they see a scantily clad woman, and they’re compelled to assault her.  This just isn’t the case.  Most men can control themselves, at least to the point where they won’t have sex with a woman who isn’t willing.

Myth #5:  Sexual assault survivors will always act a certain way when they’ve been assaulted.

People react to trauma differently.  Some people are angry, some laugh, some cry, some may seem completely numb or emotionless, some may be in shock.  It just all depends on the person.  There is not a certain way that all sexual assault survivors act afterwards.

Some other sad facts:
-In many cases, victims are still blamed for their assault.
-Most men and women who are assaulted will never report the crime.
-Only about 3-6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail.  Read that again:  Only about 3-6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail.
-Most sexual assaults (ranging from 50% to 80% depending on the number of rapists involved) are planned.

No means no.
Stop means no.
Asleep means no.
Unconscious means no.
Crying can often mean no.
Pushing or shoving means no.

Just because they’re your spouse or significant other doesn’t mean that “no” becomes “yes”.  Just because they’re drunk does not give anyone permission to coerce them into anything.  Provocative clothing is not an invitation to rape.  Flirting is not an invitation to rape.  Going on a date is not an invitation to rape.

Consent is not just the absence of “no”, it’s the presence of an unequivocal “YES!”

There are far too many people who seem to have problems with these facts.  They think that rape is always how it is depicted in movies and on TV.  It’s not.  However, even if no physical violence is used during rape, the rape itself is a violent act.  It turns something that’s meant to be shared between people who at least care about each other, into something demeaning and disgusting.  Next to murder, it’s the worst crime a person can possibly commit, and in some ways I think it’s worse than murder, because its effects are long-lasting, if not permanent, and the victim has to live with that.  For a murder victim, it’s over.  For a survivor of sexual assault, the battle for normalcy can last for years.



  1. By saying only 2-8 percent of all claims are false, you seem to suggest that 92-98 percent of all rape claims are of actual rapes. No study has EVER concluded that, so it’s important to put an asterisk beside your 2-8 percent and explain it. Dr. David Lisak’s research for his 2010 Violence Against Women study, a study frequently touted by feminist bloggers, found that, putting aside the gray claims — that is, the majority of claims that can’t be classified as either rape or non-rape — and only looking at the claims that could be classified as false claims or that were referred for prosecution or disciplinary action, 14.2% were, in fact, false claims. The exact percentage of false or otherwise wrongful claims is unknowable, but the percentage of false or wrongful claims is likely higher than 14.2%, possibly much higher. How do we know this? It is reasonably certain that a portion of the claims referred for prosecution or disciplinary action were false or wrongly brought, based on what we’ve learned from the Innocence Project and the National Registry of Exonerations. In addition, Lisak’s own study includes among the “gray” claims reports that did not result in a referral for prosecution or disciplinary action because the “victim” — the study’s terminology, tipping off an unfortunate bias — “mislabeled” the incident as sexual assault when, in fact, it was not sexual assault. (We note that to a man or boy wrongly accused of rape, it matters little whether the wrongful accusation was a lie or a mistake.) If, indeed, Lisak’s study was intent on “proving” that false rape claims are rare, it actually underscored that an unacceptable percentage of men and boys are wrongly accused of sexual assault.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Fourteen percent still is not very high. Also, I don’t think that using the term “victim” to refer to those who have been allegedly sexually assaulted is biased terminology. What other term could be used to refer to them, which could convey what they are in the smallest number of words possible?

    Also keep in mind that, again, roughly half of the instances of sexual assault are never reported, which cuts the number of false accusations in comparison to actual sexual assault considerably.

    Further, the Innocence Project not only deals with rape, but also other crimes, and exonerates those who were wrongfully convicted by using DNA evidence. If the DNA doesn’t match the suspect, it does not mean that there was no sexual assault, only that the wrong person was accused and convicted. Other times, there’s simply no DNA evidence to tie them to the crime, and they are exonerated.

    For an example of the former (a sexual assault did occur, but the wrong person was convicted), look at the first person on the list of exonerations on the Innocence Project website (Joseph Abbitt); he was convicted of sexual assault and kidnapping); there was indeed a sexual assault, but he did not commit the act. What I was referring to in my “false claims” were claims of rape when in fact none occurred, not cases in which the wrong person was accused. And in fact, moving down the list, in every single case I looked at (roughly half), there *was* a sexual assault, but the wrong person was convicted. This is a completely different thing from what I was describing. These weren’t women who just accused some random guy of raping her when no one did; these were women and girls who probably really thought that these men raped them.

  3. […] rape.  Everything I’d ever learned about rape implied that it happened between strangers (I now know that that is very inaccurate), that it involved some creep jumping out of a bathroom stall or out of the bushes with a gun or a […]

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