Common sexual violence myths busted!
There are many existing beliefs about sexual violence within our society – far too often these are based on myths rather than the facts and realities. When we live in a society that consistently perpetuates and reinforces messages, which blame and silence survivors and excuse perpetrators, it’s not surprising that these start to be believed as the facts rather than myths.
This was recently highlighted by the YouGov survey for EVAW, which revealed the negative impact these myths have on people’s perceptions and understanding of sexual violence. Having space to explore and challenge sexual violence myths, both within ourselves and others, is a crucial part of supporting survivors, holding those who perpetrate accountable for their actions and working towards preventing sexual violence in future generations.
Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about sexual violence:
Myth: You can’t rape your long-term partner.
Reality: When we are in a relationship with someone that does not then mean we sign away our choices and human rights. Being in a relationship with someone does not give anyone the right to pressure, force or coerce their partners into doing anything sexual. We all deserve to be able to refuse or simply not want to have sex at any time in our relationship without fear of reprisal or violence.
A relationship based on respect and understanding will create space to communicate about sex, as preferences and desire are bound to fluctuate and change over time.
Myth: It’s not rape if someone removes a condom without their partner’s consent.
Reality: Just because someone consents to sex with a condom, that does not mean that they consent to sex without a condom. If someone removes a condom without telling the other person then that person has not had the freedom to choose whether that’s something they want to do. Consent to one thing does not equal consent to everything, and it is everyone’s responsibility to check in with their partner throughout sex and get consent for everything that happens.
Sex without consent isn’t sex – it’s rape.
Myth: Some people ‘ask for it’ because of the way they dress and behave.
Reality: No one ever asks or deserves to be raped and there is never an excuse or justification. So often survivor’s behaviour is the focus of conversation, rather than the tactics and behaviour of perpetrators.
People may seek out consensual sex – this is completely different from rape. Rape and sex are not the same thing – rape is about asserting power and control over another person, believing that they have the right to access and use someone’s body when they want and how they want. What someone was wearing when they were raped or how they behave is completely irrelevant. Flirting does not equal consent! Consent is active, enthusiastic, mutual and reciprocal – given with complete freedom and understanding of what is happening.
It is not women’s responsibility to prevent sexual violence – we have the right to live in the world free from the fear and threat of sexual violence. The responsibility is on each person not to perpetrate sexual violence in the first place!
Myth: It was a ‘misunderstanding’.
Reality: Increasingly we hear people talk about the myth of ‘sexual miscommunication’ – that rape is actually a misunderstanding between the perpetrator and the survivor. It implies that men, particularly young men, don’t understand when someone is telling them no. A study in 2008 found that young men understood non-verbal signs of refusal, yet claimed ‘sexual miscommunication’ to justify using pressure.
This is a very dangerous rape myth which creates expectations that sex will be refused with a clear verbal ‘no’, when other forms of refusals are typically much less direct and often involve making excuses.
It also ignores the fact that people say no in many different ways – which are clear and understood, yet ignored. Perpetrators use a range of tactics to be able to commit sexual violence and silence survivors. To imply it is the result of ‘miscommunication’ is to deny the decision-making process of the perpetrator – before, during and after the assault.
Myth: If someone didn’t struggle or call out, then they must be consenting.
Reality: In reality, many survivors freeze or flop during rape as a survival response. Some survivors may be unable to move or speak at this time or be so shocked, confused and/or terrified that they dissociate and feel like the rape is happening to someone else. This is our body’s survival response and way of protecting itself when experiencing any form of sexual violence. This myth also incorrectly places the sole responsibility on someone to refuse consent, rather than on the legal and ethical responsibility we all have to actively seek consent from any sexual partner.
Myth: You can’t change your mind once sex has started.
Reality: It is absolutely each person’s right to withdraw consent at any time and have this heard and respected. Consent has to be present the whole time anything sexual is happening, and someone may consent to one thing but not to another, or for a whole host of reasons may wish to stop entirely.
It’s useful to see consent as an ongoing communication between sexual partners, and it’s up to all of us to tune in and make sure our sexual partners are consenting and comfortable throughout any sexual experience.
Myth: It’s not rape if the other person is very drunk or asleep.
Reality: When someone wants to have sex with another person, they have to have that person’s consent. By law, in order to be able to consent someone has to have both the freedom and the capacity. Having the freedom to consent means being able to make the choice freely and without pressure. Having the capacity to consent means being fully conscious and able to make a choice that’s based on understanding the advantages and disadvantages.
If someone is asleep or very drunk then they do not have capacity and so it’s not possible for them to give their consent.
Myth: Men from Black and Asian ethnic backgrounds are more likely to perpetrate sexual violence. Men who rape are maniacs, monsters, sick, madmen.
Reality: Anyone can perpetrate sexual violence, yet we know that disproportionately sexual violence is perpetrated by men and boys against women and girls. Similarly, men and boys experiences of sexual violence are also disproportionately perpetrated against them by other men and boys. Men who perpetrate sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, religion, age and social and economic background – rape is about power, control, dominance and entitlement to women and girls’ bodies and is perpetrated throughout our society.
Believing that men who rape or sexually abuse come from particular backgrounds, or have a mental illness, excuses, distances and others perpetrators. It can help us to feel safer if we can say that the men we know aren’t like this and we would know if someone was a rapist, when this just isn’t true.
The difficult reality is that men who perpetrate sexual violence can be our friends, partners, ex-partners, work colleagues, neighbours, family members and strangers and are often ‘ordinary’ men. This is one of the many reasons that makes it so difficult for survivors to speak out about their experiences, as the perpetrators are men who we know, trust, admire and often love.
Myth: Women lie about experiencing sexual violence.
Reality: Disproportionate media focus on false allegations perpetuates the myth that lying about sexual violence is common, when in fact the opposite is true – false allegations of sexual violence are very rare. All forms of sexual violence are significantly under-reported crimes with the vast majority of survivors feeling silenced and unable to disclose or report to the police. One significant reason for this is the fear of not being believed.
It can sometimes be easier to believe that survivors are lying, than believe the reality of the devastating scale of sexual violence within our society and those who perpetrate it. In reality, we know and understand that the person most likely to lie about any crime is the person who committed it – this is the same for those who perpetrate sexual violence.
It is up to all of us to stand together in challenging the many myths that exist around sexual violence – both within ourselves, with family, friends and work colleagues. Believing and supporting survivors, whilst holding perpetrators accountable for their behaviour and choices, is fundamental in preventing sexual violence and ending all forms of violence against women and girls.