Rape myths are false assumptions about rape, the victims or potential victims of rape, and the perpetrators who commit rape. Although they lack validity, rape myths are widely accepted beliefs in US culture that have been passed around for years. These false beliefs are extremely harmful and play a major role in contributing to 'rape culture,' a culture that allows individuals in our community to be raped and then blamed or partially blamed for being victimized. Rape myths instill a false sense of safety in men, women and children, reduce empathy for victims, and regularly shift the blame to the victim for not preventing the assault as opposed to the perpetrator for committing the assault.
Myth: Most rapists are creepy old men.
Fact: The majority of perpetrators are men; however, rapists are not physically identifiable and most men are not rapists. Perpetrators may appear friendly, normal, and non-threatening. Many are attractive, charming, intelligent, young, married and have children. Rapist types and traits however can be categorized. Rapist range by age. ethnicity, religion and class. People have been raped by doctors, lawyers, police officers, politicians, celebrities, high school or college students, family members etc.
Myth: Women often falsely accuse men of rape.
Fact: According to FBI crime statistics, 2-8% of reports are "unfounded" which is NOT the same thing as "false". Unfounded reports include: reports that were recanted because the victim no longer wanted to participate in the legal process or because the victim was being threatened or intimidated to recant; reports that are unable to be determined as to whether or not to classify as "forcible" rape or not for law enforcement categorizing; reports that did not have enough physical evidence; reports that contain inconsistencies and reports that are false (made up or fabricated).
Myth: Men cannot be raped.
Fact: Sexual assault, no matter the gender of the perpetrator or victim, is a form of violence where sex is used to demean and humiliate another person. According to the 2010 NISVS report, 1 in 71 men in the U.S. are victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime; however, sexual violence of males is gravely underreported. Most male survivors were raped or sexually abused as children, others are sexually assaulted within their peer groups (ie. sports teams, fraternities, military battalions, gang), and many men are raped in prison. However, most men do not the identify assaults by their peers as a 'sexual assault' but merely part of the initiation or hazing ritual or write it off as 'guys being guys.' Typically, the perpetrator is a heterosexual male, exerting his power and control over another man. Men are often attacked in groups, physically brutalized, coerced, manipulated, or taken by surprise. Drugs and alcohol are sometimes used to incapacitate victims as well. Physical strength is not always sufficient protection and perpetrators use threats, intimidation, or further humiliation to keep their victims from reporting.
Myth: You can tell a rapist by the way he looks.
Fact: The majority of perpetrators are men; however, most men are not rapists. The few that are, are not physically identifiable and cross all lines of socioeconomic status, age, religion, ethnicity, etc. Perpetrators may appear friendly, normal, and non-threatening. Many are attractive, charming, intelligent, young, married and have children. Rapist types and traits however can be categorized.
Myth: Most rapes are reported by women who "change their minds" afterwards or who want to "get even" with a man.
Fact: No other crime victim is looked upon with the degree of suspicion and doubt as a victim of rape. Rape is the most underreported crime. The rates of 'false' reports are no higher than any other felony crime. According to FBI crime statistics, 2-8% of reports are "unfounded" which is NOT the same thing as "false". Unfounded reports include: reports that were recanted because the victim no longer wanted to participate in the legal process or because the victim was being threatened or intimidated to recant; reports that are unable to be determined as to whether or not to classify as "forcible" rape or not for law enforcement categorizing; reports that did not have enough physical evidence; reports that contain inconsistencies and reports that are false (made up or fabricated).
Myth: Women fantasize about being raped.
Fact: No woman fantasizes about being raped. When people have sexual fantasies of aggressive sex or seduction, they choose the circumstances and characteristics of their seducer and the fantasy can be turned off if it becomes uncomfortable or threatening. With rape, the act is unwanted and the victim is unable to control the assault or stop it. In rape, the victim is never in control. There is a big difference between fantasy and reality.
Myth: Most rapes involve black men who rape white women.
Fact: Most rapists rape women of the same race/ethnicity as them.
Myth: A man can't rape his wife.
Fact: Many states now have laws against rape in marriage. The idea that a man can't rape his wife suggests married women do not have the same right to safety and to say 'no' as do unmarried women. Most battered women have experienced some form of sexual abuse within their marriage. It is also known that estranged or ex-spouses sometimes use rape as a form of retaliation.
Myth: Only "bad" women get raped.
Fact: No other crime victim is looked upon with the degree of suspicion and doubt as a victim of rape. Although there are numerous reasons why society has cast blame on the victims of rape, a major reason found in studies is that of a feeling of self-protection. If one believes that the victim was responsible because she put herself in an unsafe position, such as being out late at night, drinking alcohol, dressing in a certain way, or "leading on" the rapist, then we are able to feel safer because "we wouldn't do those things." But, the basic fact remains that without consent, no means no, no matter what the situation or circumstances and anyone can be victimized.
Myth: Rape is a crime of passion.
Fact: Rape is an act of VIOLENCE, not passion. It's an attempt to overpower someone else to hurt and humiliate them, using sex as the weapon. It is usually well planned and intentional, not an accidental misunderstanding.
Myth: Most rapists only rape one time.
Fact: Most rapists rape again, and again, and again. The majority of perpetrators do not stop until caught and put in jail.
Myth: Only certain kinds of people get raped. It won't happen to me.
Fact: Any man, woman or child can be raped. Rapists act without considering their victim's physical appearance, dress, age, race, gender, religion, or social status. Assailants seek out victims who they perceive to be vulnerable or easy targets.
Myth: Male rape only happens in prison.
Fact: Most male survivors were raped as young boys or as adults who were never incarcerated. Many young men are sexually assaulted within their peer groups, sports teams, fraternities, military battalions or gangs; however, most men do not identify the assault as a sexual assault but merely part of initiation or hazing rituals of 'guys being guys.'
Myth: Sexual assault is a women's issue, and men do not have to be concerned about sexual assault.
Fact: Sexual assault is a community issue that impacts everyone. Both men and women have a role in educating themselves to prevent victimizing others, bringing awareness to the issue among their circles and intervening when they see or hear inappropriate comments or behavior. Contrary to popular belief, boys and men, both straight and gay, are also at risk of being victimized. According to the 2010 NISVS, 1 in 71 males are the victims of rape of attempted rape during their lifetime. In addition, men have female friends, girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, daughters and other family members who may someday need assistance before, during or after a sexual assault.
Myth: A person who has really been sexually assaulted will be hysterical and crying.
Fact: Survivors exhibit a spectrum of emotional responses to an assault: calm, hysteria, laughter, anger, apathy, melancholy or shock. Some survivors also isolate themselves, abuse alcohol or other drugs, or engage in promiscuous or other high risk behaviors to cope with the assault. Each survivor deals with the trauma of the assault in a different way.
Myth: Women who are drunk are willing to engage in any kind of sexual activity.
Fact: The fact that a woman has been drinking does not imply consent. Alcohol and drugs can render someone mentally incapable to give consent; therefore engaging in sexual activity with someone who has been drinking could lead to a sexual assault.
Myth: Male rape is homosexual rape.
Fact: Rape is about power and control, not about sex, sexual attraction, or sexual orientation. Boys and men, regardless of their sexual orientation, are usually raped by heterosexual males who rape to demean and humiliate them, the same as men who rape women. A man who rapes another man does so to exert power and control over him, which has nothing to do with being attracted to him.
Myth: Sexual assault is provoked by the victim. Victims ask for it by their actions, behaviors, or by the way they dress.
Fact: To say that someone wants to be raped is the same as saying that people ask to be robbed, stabbed or shot. People may dress in revealing clothing, drink or use drugs or flirt excessively, but that does not give someone permission to force or coerce them into sexual activity. Most rapes do not occur spontaneously, they are planned in advance and intentional. Sexual assault is not an accidental misunderstanding or act of uncontrollable sexual passion. It is a violent or vindictive attack on an individual using sex as a weapon. Sex is used to defile, degrade and destroy a victim's will and control over his or her own body. For the victim, it is a demeaning, humiliating, and sometimes life threatening. No person provokes, asks for, or deserve such an assault.
Myth: Once a man gets sexually aroused, he can't just stop.
Fact: Men do not physically need to have sex after becoming sexually excited. Moreover, they are still able to control themselves after becoming aroused. Most men do not commit rape and other acts of sexual violence. Most men respect their partner's boundaries.
Myth: Rape isn't a big deal, it's just sex. Women should stop complaining, lay back and just enjoy it.
Fact: Rape is not sex, it is an act of violence that is meant to demean and humiliate the victim. It is neither relaxing nor enjoyable and often causes lasting emotional and psychological trauma. Victims often submit without struggle due to shock, especially if the assailant is known to the victim; fear of physical force or harm; or in hope that the assault will end more quickly if they comply. Submitting or complying with a perpetrator does not imply consent.
Myth: Women say "NO" when they really mean, "YES".
Fact: When a woman says "NO" she means, NO. Some men often use this erroneous conclusion to justify forcing sex on a woman.
Myth: Women ask to be raped when they dress, dance or act provocatively.
Fact: Rape is not incited by the victim or a crime motivated by sexual gratification. It's one of power and violence in an attempt to dehumanize, dominate, humiliate and take another's control away from him/her. No one has the "right" to another person's body or to force or coerce others into an act against their will. People have the right to wear what they want, dance or act provocatively without being sexually violated. A person's attire, flirting, appearance, occupation, or alcohol or drug consumption does not justify an offender's behaviors to rape. The offender, not the survivor, must be held responsible for sexual assault.
Myth: It is easy to prosecute rapists.
Fact: The vast majority of rapists are never brought to justice. Most terrify their victims into not reporting the assault(s) and to remain silent. Rape is the most underreported crime and the least likely to be prosecuted, especially if the assault is not a stereotypical attack, involves acquaintances, or if the victim was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of the assault. Rapists thrive on this knowledge and power. According to RAINN, 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Myth: Most rapists are poor and uneducated.
Fact: Rape crosses all class lines. People have been raped by doctors, lawyers, police officers, politicians, celebrities, and other authority figures. Because of their social and financial positions, these offenders are seldom prosecuted for their acts of violence, and their actions are seldom publicized. Whereas, perpetrator who are uneducated and poor are less likely to have an attorney to reduce their charges or get them off.
Myth: If a woman has had sex with a man in the past, she cannot be raped by that man in the future.
Fact: Rape exists when someone is forced, coerced or manipulated to have sex against his/her will, regardless of the history of the relationship. Just because a person has had consensual sex with that partner before does not mean that s/he is obligated to have sex with them anytime they want.
Myth: If a woman really did not want to be raped, she could fight off her attacker.
Fact: Even if the rapist is not carrying a weapon, the element of surprise, shock, fear or the threat of harm can overpower a survivor. Many victims are heavily intoxicated at the time of an assault and not fully aware of what is happening to them until they regain sobriety. In most assaults the victim knows the perpetrator, trusts and feels comfortable with this person and would have never expected them to force, manipulate, or coerce them in this way. Many victims are very confused about what is happening because the assault isn't like what they've seen or heard about in the media; there's not usually a weapon, the assailant didn't break in, and the assailant is someone they know and trust.
Myth: Most rapists hide in dark alleys, waiting for a woman they don't know to walk by.
Facts: The majority of reported rapes occur either in the victim's home or the home of the perpetrator. In many cases, the victim met the offender in a public place and then was coerced into accompanying the rapist to the place of the assault. In most cases, perpetrators were well known to the victim and were in relationships that one would normally assume trust, i.e. intimate partner, friend, acquaintance or family member.
Myth: The best way for survivors to get over a sexual assault is to act like it didn't happen, to put it behind them, get on with their lives and be "normal" again.
Fact: Speaking out about sexual assault might be an essential part of the recovery process for survivors. However, no survivor should ever be forced to speak, publicly or privately, before they are ready, every survivor is the expert on their own recovery. For many, recovery becomes an ongoing process of healing, change and empowerment. All survivors have a right to support and validation from friends, family and service providers, no matter where they are in their individual healing process or how long ago the assault occurred.
Myth: Most rapes are reported.
Fact: Rape is the most underreported crime. Victims often feel shame, humiliation, or embarrassment following the assault and rarely report the incident to law enforcement or any other authority figure. Other reasons victims do not come forward include, fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, disbelief about what happened, concerns of causing conflict if the perpetrator is well liked or within their friend group, fear that everyone will find out. Many survivors blame themselves for not doing more to prevent the assault. Some are confused about what happened if the assault or perpetrator didn't mirror the stereotypical incidents of rape or rapists or if they were unconscious or intoxicated at the time of the assault.
Myth: Sexual assault only occurs in large cities.
Fact: Rapes have been reported all across the country in large cities and small towns. While more sexual assaults occur in large cities, this is due solely to a greater population. Victims who live in rural areas may not have the same anonymity in a small town and access to services that someone would have in a larger community. Survivors of sexual violence in small communities may therefore be less likely to tell anyone, report it to the police or seek support.
Myth: Rape is not a big deal if the woman has had sex previously.
Fact: Sexual assault is always a big deal. It's always against the law. If s/he doesn't want to engage in a sexual act, and another person forces, coerces, or manipulates them into unwanted sexual activity, that's sexual assault, no matter what happened in the past.
Myth: Women want to know whose boss. They want the man to be aggressive and in control. They like the bad boys that treat them like crap.
Fact: Regardless of popular belief, women want to be respected and treated as an equal. Sexual violence is disrespectful, dehumanizing and against the law.
Last Updated: 5/3/12