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Dispelling Myths about Sexual Assault

Our society’s understanding of sexual assault is complicated by myths. Research has dispelled the following myths:

Myth: Women provoke sexual assault by their behaviour or manner of dress.
Fact: No behaviour or manner of dress justifies an assault.

  • Such a belief takes the onus off the offenders and places it on the victim.
  • In fact, a man should always ask to ensure his advances are wanted.
  • The idea that women "ask for it", is often used by offenders to rationalize their behaviour.
  • Offenders are solely responsible for their own behaviour.
  • A woman may put herself at risk by using poor judgement; however, this is not cause for the assault.

Myth: Women often lie about sexual assault.
Fact: Statistics show that more than 98% of sexual assault allegations are true.

  • Other crimes have a higher percentage of false allegations.
  • Also, sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes.

Myth: When a woman says "no" she secretly enjoys being forced, teased or coerced into having sex.
Fact: No one enjoys being assaulted.

  • No one asks to be assaulted.
  • "No" means "no". It's the law.
  • If a woman says no, it is the responsibility of the man to accept and respect her "no".
  • Sexual assault can have serious effects on people’s health and well being.
  • People who have been sexually assaulted feel fear, depression and anger.
  • Victims can experience harmful physical and emotional effects that influence future relations and cause the individual to become more cautious and less trusting.

Myth: Saying "no" is the only way of expressing your desire to not continue.
Fact: There are many ways of communicating non-compliance.

  • "I have to go"/"I'm going to be late"
  • "My friend is waiting"
  • "I’m not into this right now"
  • Silence
  • Crying
  • Body language (squirming, stiffness, shaking)

Many offenders will rationalize their behaviour by saying that because she didn't actually say "no", they thought she was consenting (that she really wanted sexual contact).

Myth: Sexual assault only occurs when there is a struggle or physical injury.
Fact: There are a number of reasons why a struggle or physical injury may not occur in  a sexual assault.

  • Many victims are too afraid to struggle.
  • They may freeze in terror or realize that the overwhelming size and strength of their attacker makes resistance very dangerous.
  • Many sexual assaults (85%) are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts.
  • Acquaintances, friends or relatives are more likely to use tricks, verbal pressure, threats or mild force like arm twisting or pinning their victim down during an assault.
  • Some offenders may also drug their victim.
  • Lack of obvious physical injury or knowing the attacker doesn’t change the nature of the act.

Myth: If it really happened, victims would be able to recount all the facts in the proper order.
Fact: Shock, fear and trauma impair memory, temporarily and/or long term.

Myth: A woman who has agreed to sex previously with the offender (for example, her husband, boyfriend or acquaintance) cannot be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual activity forced on one person by another.

  • Sexual assault occurs whenever a person does not want to have sex but is forced into the act, regardless of previous consensual sexual relations.
  • The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women found that 38% of sexually assaulted women were assaulted by their husbands, common-law partners or boyfriends.
  • Although illegal since 1983, few of these assaults are reported to police.

Myth: My personal biases or stereotypes might interfere with my ability to openly listen to complaints of sexual assault by gays/lesbians, women of diverse cultures, women with disabilities, sex trade workers, etc.
Fact: Many of the above mentioned groups are at higher risk for any type of violence, including sexual violence.

  • 2/3 of women with disabilities have been physically or sexually abused before they reach puberty.
  • One-third of these women continue to be abused as adults.
  • In Canada today, women with disabilities are at least 1½ times more likely than women without disabilities to experience some form of violence during their lifetime.
  • 67% of those women with disabilities surveyed had been physically or sexually assaulted as children, compared with 44% of women without disabilities.

Myth: If a man - for example, a husband, boyfriend or acquaintance – buys a woman dinner or drinks, gives a present or does a favour, she owes him sex.
Fact: No one owes anyone sex.

  • It cannot be assumed that friendliness and openness are an invitation to sex.

Myth: Once a sexual assault report has been made the alleged offender will eventually be prosecuted and found guilty.
Fact: As with all types of charges, each case is dealt with on its own merits.

  • As with all types of charges before the Criminal Courts, not every sexual assault reported ends in prosecution and certainly not every prosecution ends in a conviction or a finding of guilt. Each case is dealt with on its own merits.
  • It requires tremendous courage and strength to come forward and disclose sexual violence, and to participate in the criminal justice process.
  • There is no statute of limitation for reporting and prosecuting sexual assault.

Myth: There is no such thing as a male victim of sexual assault.
Fact: Anyone can be a victim.

  • Sexual offenders can attack men and boys too.
  • One third of the males and just over one half of the females surveyed reported that they had been the victims of at least one unwanted sexual act.
  • Women are considerably more likely than men to report being victims of sexual abuse.

Myth: Most sexual assault crimes are reported to police.
Fact: Only 1 in 10 sexual assaults are reported to the police.

  • There are many reasons that people don't report their sexual assault. Fear of not being believed or fear of being blamed for the assault is very common.
  • Some believe the myth that they are to blame for being sexually assaulted.
  • Males are often not recognized as victims because society does not define assault as something that happens to males.