Myths about sexual assault

Contributed by Penny Pestano and Chrystina Stanford and current to January 2018

Because rape is such an inhuman experience, some people like to pretend it doesn't occur in our community. Some people may think that because it hasn't happened to them, those who are sexually assaulted have done something to deserve it. People may play down the effects because they think it helps the victim or simply do not understand that sexual assault is illegal. These myths are also utilised by the perpetrators of sexual assault to make the victim feel they are to blame or there isn't anyone they can go to. Allowing such myths to remain unchallenged creates a world where a victim of sexual assault can be further traumatised or not seek help or justice. Below are some other common myths.

Myth

Reality

They didn't say 'no' therefore it's not sexual assault

Consent cannot be assumed just because a person does not verbalise the word 'no'. There are many circumstances when a person is unable to say 'no' - for example, they are asleep, they are scared or feel threatened, the perpetrator is in a position of power or authority or has manipulated or tricked them or because they are under the influence of substances. Even in some circumstances where a person says 'yes', due to their age, their position of vulnerability in the relationship or physical or mental capacity at the time, they were unable to provide consent

The victim did something to deserve being sexually assaulted

There are no actions anyone can ever undertake that make sexual assault permissible. Sexual assault is a crime and nobody ever deserves to be sexually assaulted. Perpetrators will often use tactics to make the victim feel they did something to deserve the sexual offences, but the offender is always responsible for their actions.

It was the victim's fault because they were drinking and/or took drugs

No one ever asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted, and people under the influence of drugs and or alcohol are unable to provide consent. Some perpetrators use drugs and or alcohol to create vulnerability in their victims; the offender is always responsible for their actions.

Most people are sexually assaulted by strangers

The majority of sexual offences are perpetrated by a person known to the victim. In the ABS Personal Safety Survey (2005), 89% of people who reported experiencing sexual assault before the age of 15, were victimised by someone known to them. Most commonly, child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a male relative, a family friend, acquaintance or neighbour or another known person.

When I was raped I had an orgasm/erection, was it still rape?

Biological responses to rape are very common and often something many survivors feel very shameful about and keep secret. Having a sexual response or orgasm during the course of sexual assault is well-documented. Some women do experience orgasms and some men have erections when they are being sexually assaulted because the body has an automatic response which is beyond our rational control and having this response does not in any way make the sexual assault 'okay', and doesn't mean the person enjoyed it. If a person does not give informed consent, regardless of how their body reacts, it is still a sexual assault.

Men rape because they cannot control their sexual urges

There is no evidence to substantiate this claim, men do have control over their bodies and over what they do with their sexual urges. The myth that men can't help themselves is used to blame the victim for being 'desirable' or 'tempting' to the perpetrator, and is an attempt to excuse their actions. Perpetrators have the ability to choose not to violate another person; the only person responsible for sexually assaulting another person is the offender.

It's not rape if they're in a relationship

Sexual assault can occur between two people who have just met, within short or long term relationships and within marriage. The ACT Crimes Act specifies that marriage is no bar to conviction. Just because a person is in a relationship or married to their partner, does not mean either person can engage sexually with their partner without their consent.

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