waterford rape and sexual abuse centre



Common Myths

The subject of rape and Sexual assault is surrounded by ignorance, fear and myths:  ignorance on the part of the people who do not understand the brutal reality of sexual violence; fear on the part of the people who are vulnerable or who have been victimised; and myths which serve to minimise the problem and which contribute to ambivalent attitudes about the role of the victim in incidents of sexual assault.
We try to distance ourselves from the possibility that we, or somebody we love, could be violated in this way.  As a society, we have adopted certain beliefs and attitudes about the role of the victim in incidents of sexual violence in an attempt to deny the brutality of what actually happens, and to reassure ourselves that it could never happen to us.

Myths and widely held but ill-founded beliefs about sexual assault contribute to the fear that victims experience in seeking help or reporting the attack.  Frequently, people are afraid they will not be believed, or will be blamed for provoking the attack.  This contributes to the silence that continues to surround crimes of sexual violence.  These myths also serve to shift the blame from where it belongs – with the perpetrator – on to the victim, and in so doing, contribute to the silence.  Women and men who have been raped may agonize over what it was in their dress or behaviour that led to the attack, a question that would be considered ludicrous in any other violence crime.

Myth:  Only young attractive people are raped.
Fact:  All men and women are subject to the possibility of rape.  Interviews with rapists confirm that perception of the attractiveness of a person, in most cases, is not an important factor of the attack.

Myth:  Rape doesn’t have to happen; resist and it won’t happen.
Fact:  Physical force and violence is always present or implied in rape.  The rapist is in control of how they act, the victim is always reacting.  Whether a victim reacts by resisting, freezing or submitting, the rapist will choose his action regardless.

Myth:  People are usually sexually assaulted by strangers.
Fact:  The SAVI Report found that 74% of those who experienced rape or sexual assault knew the person who assaulted them.  The truth is that most rape and sexual assault takes place within a social or family situation – adding to the victim’s confusion and self-blame.

Myth:  People often make false allegations of rape.
Fact:  Reporting sexual abuse involves complex, invasive and sometimes traumatic procedures, including a lengthy Garda interview and a forensic examination.  Months later, the victim faces a court appearance where s/he may be cross-examined on the details of the attack.  It is unlikely that a person would put themselves through such an extended ordeal or be able to sustain a story which is not true.

Myth:  Sexual violence only happens to an unfortunate few.
Fact:  The SAVI Report found that 42% of women and 28% of men reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime.

Myth:  Rape is a well reported crime.
Fact: Only between 10 and 20% of cases are reported to Gardaí.  Fear of the perpetrator, fear of being disbelieved, judged or blamed for provoking the attack and fear of upsetting their family (if, for example, the attacker is a relation) can hinder a survivor from reporting.  Additionally, many victims minimize and/or deny the reality of what has happened.

Rape and sexual assault are in themselves vicious, violent acts whether or not they are accompanied by other violence.  Research shows that the primary motivating factors are anger and the wish to dominate and degrade, not sexual desire.

© Martin Quigley

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