Believing rape myths is dangerous and damaging—so long as society believes these myths, survivors of sexualized violence face difficulties coming forward and seeking the help they need.
What is a rape myth?
We’re glad you asked. Rape myths are false beliefs about sexualized violence that work to excuse sexualized violence and create hostility toward survivors. There are so many of them, and they are so prevalent in our society, that it’s easy to accept this misinformation as truth.
What are the consequences of rape myths?
Rape myths convey a false separation between those who have been sexually assaulted or abused (the “victims”, as myths teach us), and those who have not (“the rest of us”), which is a harmful divide to maintain. These myths can influence the opinions of court officials, jurors, police, survivors, perpetrators, and the general public. Rape myths serve to reinforce dangerous misinformation, as you will see in our examples below.
Examples of Common Rape Myths:
Victims commonly or routinely lie about being sexually assaulted or abused (studies show that they don’t, like this frequently cited study).
What a person was wearing led to them being sexually assaulted, or that sexualized violence is the victim’s fault if they wore revealing clothes (which is absolutely not true).
Victims bear responsibility for sexualized violence if they were intoxicated when it happened (when legally, one cannot consent if they are under the influence; read more about consent here).
Most sexualized violence is committed by strangers (in reality, most perpetrators are known by the survivor).
We can start to see how harmful these myths can be for survivors and their credibility. All four of these examples point blame toward one person only (the survivor) and neglect to hold the assailant responsible.
More Facts & Myths about Sexualized Violence
Myth: If girls stopped acting irresponsibly when they go out, sexual assault reports would decrease.
Fact: Such a high percentage of sexualized violence happens when the survivors are children, and most sexualized violence is committed by someone the survivor knows. So the above myth just isn’t the case!
Myth: Child sexual abuse is rare; I likely don’t know anyone that’s been victimized.
Fact: 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted or abused before age 18. It’s actually highly likely that you know several people that have experienced sexualized violence; be kind and sensitive when discussing sexualized violence.
Myth: Boys and men can’t be sexually abused.
Fact: As mentioned above, 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted or abused before age 18. Perpetrators of sexualized violence use their size, strength, knowledge, and sometimes alcohol or drugs to make their victims compliant. This has nothing to do with the “weakness” of the victim, and everything to do with the predator asserting power and control using whatever means necessary.
Myth: Females do not sexually abuse people.
Fact: Though most people who commit this crime are male, females can perpetrate sexualized violence too (female perpetrators most often choose child victims).
Myth: Child sexual abusers are only attracted to children and are not capable of appropriate sexual relationships.
Fact: Most people who sexually abuse children are typically in adult sexual relationships, and often married with children. They often appear very normative and are not “obviously” perpetrators.
Myth: Men are less traumatized by sexualized violence than women.
Fact: Many studies have shown that the long-term effects of sexualized violence are damaging for people of all genders. Boys and men may be more damaged by society’s refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization—by laughing at it, telling them they are lucky, or ignoring it altogether—making it harder for men to seek the help they need.
Myth: Boys who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse others.
Fact: While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. This myth is dangerous because it creates a terrible stigma for the survivor, that he is destined to become an offender. Male survivors might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help.
Myth: It is not a sexual assault unless the victim fights, physically resists, is physically coerced, or injured.
Fact: Many sexual assaults do not involve physical coercion or force; more often, verbal coercion or a power imbalance forces the situation, as in cases where the victim is impaired or unconscious.
Myth: Boys abused by men are or will become homosexual.
Fact: Unfortunately, many boys/men who have been abused by other men believe that something about them sexually attracts men and that this must mean they are homosexual or effeminate—and this is simply not true. (And on that note – being effeminate is NOT a negative quality.)
Myth: Sexual gratification is often the primary motivation for a person who sexually abuses children.
Fact: The primary gratification for a person who sexually abuses children is having power and control over another person; the sexual nature of the violence is simply the tool to obtain power and control (like a weapon, or blackmail).
Myth: People who are victims of sexualized violence often deserve it.
Fact: NO ONE deserves to be sexually assaulted or abused.