Sexual Assault Myths & Facts

Myth: Rape is caused by uncontrollable sexual urges and a desire for sex. Fact:   Rape is an act of physical violence, a demonstration of aggression and power.
Myth:   Once a man gets sexually aroused he just can’t stop. Fact:   Men are perfectly capable of controlling themselves at any stage of being physically aroused.

Myth:   Women commonly lie about being raped. Fact:   Only 1 out of 10 rapes are ever reported to law enforcement, and 2% of reported rapes turn out to be false allegations. This is the same as false reports in all types of crimes.

Myth: Women’s appearance provokes the rapist. Fact:    Rapists select victims based on their accessibility and vulnerability, not by their physical appearance.

Myth: Sexual assault only happens to women. Fact:   Men, straight and gay, account for 10% of all reported rapes. Almost all of the perpetrators were men.
Myth:   Women can prevent rape by fighting off their attacker. Fact:   Even if the rapist does not appear to be carrying a weapon, surprise shock and fear most likely will overpower the victim. Many rape victims believe they will be killed during an attack.

Myth:   A woman’s sexual history is admissible in a rape trial. Fact:   Although this was once a common attempt to place blame on a victim, a woman’s past sexual history is no longer admissible in court.

Sexual Assault Facts

  1. Sexual assaults are usually planned. Fact. Most sexual assaults are planned in advance by the assailant. The act is premeditated but the specific victim tends to be chosen at random based on her availability and vulnerability.
  2. Most reported sexual assaults are true. Fact. Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. FBI crime statistics indicate that of assaults reported, only 2% are false (Brownmiller, 1975); this is comparable to other major crime reports. The perception of false reporting may be based on low conviction rates for sexual offenders. Low conviction rates result from insufficient evidence to prosecute, dismissal of trial due to technicalities and reluctance of victims to testify. For these reasons, low conviction rates do not imply false reporting.
  3. Many sexual assaults are committed by an assailant known to the victim. Fact. The victim is acquainted with her assailant in approximately 50% of reported sexual assaults. Authorities estimate this percentage to be even greater for unreported assaults. Many victims tend not to report an assault by a family member, lover, date, or acquaintance, believing that only assaults committed by strangers are sexual offenses. Other reasons for the reluctance to report this type of assault include feelings of embarrassment, shame, or self blame; fear of gossip; emotional ambivalence toward the assailant; and concern about problematic prosecution. The voluntary association between victim and assailant tends to raise doubts and to elicit less sympathy than an assault involving a stranger. Society is less likely to acknowledge a sexual assault of this type because of preconceived notions and myths about “real” rape and traditional sex role stereotypes (“she says no when she means yes”). These suppositions are reinforced through the media and by cultural images concerning sexual interaction.
  4. Most parents who sexually abuse their children have a history of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or neglect during their own childhood. Fact. Many factors are involved in the sexual abuse of children. One of the most common factors is a history of abuse in the parent’s background. Abusive parents have an incidence of prior sexual or physical abuse much greater than that of the general population.
  5. The younger the victim, the more likely that the assailant is well known to the family or is a family member. Fact. As children, victims are taught to trust family members and close family friends who will protect them. Abusing adults violate the trust of younger victims. Children should be encouraged to follow their “gut” feelings in this type of situation before they become victims. They need to know the differences between “good” and “bad” touches and to be encouraged to say “no” to inappropriate behavior.
  6. Most sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Fact. Although estimates of reported sexual assaults vary, sources agree that a very low percentage, for example, fewer than one third, is actually reported. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration estimates that there are 3.36 sexual assaults committed for each one reported (McCahill, Meyers, & Fischman, 1979). In a random sample of women in San Francisco, Russell (1984) found that only 8% of women who were assaulted filed reports. Based on these statistics, one can conclude that sexual assaults remain unreported to a vast degree.
  7. Most sexual assaults occur during summer months. Fact. Sexual assaults tend to increase during warmer months and to decrease during colder months. The potential for assault increases during warmer months because summer lifestyles increase a woman’s accessibility outside of “safe” places; windows and doors are opened for ventilation; and victims and assailants wear less clothing. Thus, the assault takes less time and the possibility for apprehension decreases during warmer months.