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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Sexual Assault Myths

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Myth: Rape is a rare occurrence.

Fact: The 2006 statistics from the FBI Uniform Crime Report found that there were an estimated 92,455 forcible rapes reported to law enforcement. This number is too high already, but it is much worse to consider that 80-90% of assaults and attempted assaults are never reported. The 1998 "Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey," by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one out of every six American women have been victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. A total of 17.7 million women have been victimized by these crimes. "The Sexual Victimization of College Women," funded by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (authors Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, published December 2000) calculated that over the course of a five-year college career, between 1/5 and 1/4 of college women would experience rape or attempted rape.

Myth: If women were more cautious in avoiding strangers, they would not be raped.

Fact: A study showed that almost four out of five rapes were committed by someone known to the victim. Only 22% of rape victims were raped by a stranger or someone they did not know well; 9% of victims were raped by husbands or ex-husbands; 11% by fathers or step-parents; 10% by other relatives; and 29% by non-relatives, such as friends or acquaintances. (Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. National Center for Victims of Crime and Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center: Arlington, VA, 1992).

Myth: The primary motive for rape is impulsive sexual desire.

Fact: Studies show that the major motive for rape is power, not sex. Sex is used as a weapon to inflict pain, violence and humiliation. Most rapists appear to have normal personalities with an abnormal tendency to be aggressive and violent. Between 2/3 and 3/4 of sexual assaults are planned in advance.

Myth: Women ask for rape by their manner of dress or flirtatious behavior.

Fact: No woman deserves to be raped, regardless of her appearance or behavior. Since rape is a crime of violence, rapists choose their victims without regard to physical appearance.

Myth: A person cannot be sexually assaulted by his or her partner or spouse. 

Fact: Sexual assault is a crime regardless of the relationship between the victim and offender. In Minnesota, as in most other states, an ongoing sexual relationship does not preclude a partner or spouse from committing or being charged with sexual assault. The issue is not the relationship, but whether and how force is used. However, victims of intimate partner assault are less likely to report the assault for fear that they will not be believed or because of their emotional investment in the relationship. There is no reason to believe that assault by an intimate partner is somehow easier to experience or "get over." In fact, sexual assault by an intimate partner may bring result in increased emotional impact and a heightened sense of violation and betrayal causing the victim to lose trust in others and in his or her own judgment. (from MNCASA)

Myth: Rape only happens in big cities.

Fact: Although there are a large number of reported assaults in urban areas, rape happens in all communities no matter how small. Unfortunately, small communities are less likely to have the range of services available in urban areas.

Myth: The criminal justice system is fair & impartial in handling criminal sexual conduct cases involving people of color.

Fact: FBI statistics show that most rapes involve an assailant and victim of the same race; only 3% involve black men and white women and 4% involve white men and black women. When reporting an assault, women of color may find it more difficult to be believed or taken seriously because of institutionalized gender and racial bias. Efforts are underway to root out institutional racism in the criminal justice system. However, men of color accused of rape are still more likely than other accused rapists to be found guilty and incarcerated for longer periods. They also receive more media publicity, especially if the victim is white.

Myth: Women often falsely report rape to gain attention or get somebody in trouble.

Fact: In 2008, "unfounded" reports of rape to the Uniform Crime Report Program (UCR) were at 5.8% (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Report, 2008). The category of "unfounded" consists of both baseless cases—in which the elements of the crime were never met—and false reports. Law enforcement is trained to discover false reports in their investigation. It is more likely that an actual assault goes unreported. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 60% still being left unreported (U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Study, 2005).  Furthermore, less than 5% of completed and attempted rapes of college students are brought to the attention of campus authorities and/or law enforcement (Karjane, H. M., Fisher, B. S., & Cullen, F. T., 2005. Sexual assault on Campus: What colleges and universities are doing about it) which means that over 95% of completed or attempted rapes of college students go unreported. 

Male Sexual Victimization Myths & Facts

Adapted from a presentation at the 5th International Conference on Incest and Related Problems, Biel, Switzerland, August 14, 1991.

Myth #1 - Boys and men can't be victims.

This myth, instilled through masculine gender socialization and sometimes referred to as the "macho image," declares that males, even young boys, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable. We learn very early that males should be able to protect themselves. In truth, boys are children - weaker and more vulnerable than their perpetrators - who cannot really fight back. Why? The perpetrator has greater size, strength, and knowledge. This power is exercised from a position of authority, using resources such as money or other bribes, or outright threats - whatever advantage can be taken to use a child for sexual purposes.

Myth #2 - Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.

Pedophiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are pedophiles.

Myth #3 - If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.

In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child's sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. "You liked it, you wanted it," they'll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.

Myth #4 - Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls.

While some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be more damaged by society's refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must "tough it out" in silence.

Myth #5 - Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.

While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. It is unlikely that someone can make another person a homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual. Whether perpetrated by older males or females, boys' or girls' premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways, including confusion about one's sexual identity and orientation.
Many boys who have been abused by males erroneously believe that something about them sexually attracts males, and that this may mean they are homosexual or effeminate. Again, not true. Pedophiles who are attracted to boys will admit that the lack of body hair and adult sexual features turns them on. The pedophile's inability to develop and maintain a healthy adult sexual relationship is the problem - not the physical features of a sexually immature boy.

Myth #6 - The "Vampire Syndrome", that is, boys who are sexually abused, like the victims of Count Dracula, go on to "bite" or sexually abuse others.

This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help. While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. Research by Jane Gilgun, Judith Becker and John Hunter found a primary difference between perpetrators who were sexually abused and sexually abused males who never perpetrated: non-perpetrators told about the abuse, and were believed and supported by significant people in their lives. Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don't perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young.

Myth #7 - If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.

In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.
Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging.

  • So long as society believes these myths, and teaches them to children from their earliest years, sexually abused males will be unlikely to get the recognition and help they need.

  • So long as society believes these myths, sexually abused males will be more likely join the minority of survivors who perpetuate this suffering by abusing others.

  • So long as boys or men who have been sexually abused believe these myths, they will feel ashamed and angry.

  • And so long as sexually abused males believe these myths they reinforce the power of another devastating myth that all abused children struggle with: that it was their fault. It is never the fault of the child in a sexual situation - though perpetrators can be quite skilled at getting their victims to believe these myths and take on responsibility that is always and only their own.

For any male who has been sexually abused, becoming free of these myths is an essential part of the recovery process.