My last post featured a pedagogical resource to help educators at Penn State bring issues of sexual violence and misconduct into the classroom. In today’s post we challenge myths about sexual violence and counteract them with facts.
How we understand sexual violence is complicated by a number of dangerous myths. As well as shaming and blaming victims into secrecy, these myths often underhandedly tolerate, normalize, and even condone the actions of perpetrators. Myths about sexual violence foster and perpetuate what is known as a rape culture.
Behind these myths are a variety of cultural attitudes and biases, such as attitudes that normalize sexual violence against women and hetero-normative biases. Our goal is dispelling myths and counteracting them with facts. This can help us think more critically, empowering us to educate others in our communities about the dangerous myths that obscure the realities of sexual violence. Let’s take a closer look at some common myths about sexual violence:
Myth 1: If someone engages in any sexual contact they are giving consent for sexual intercourse.
Fact: Consent is never once and for all. You always have the right to engage in sexual contact until you feel uncomfortable or decide to stop. Having your partner’s consent for a particular sexual activity does not mean you have their consent for every sexual activity. Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent is an excellent website with more additional information and guidelines about what constitutes sexual consent.
Myth 2: If the people are dating, in a long-term relationship, or married it is not rape.
Fact: Rape is a crime regardless of the relationship between the victim and offender. Consent is never to be assumed, not even in the context of a relationship or marriage.
Myth 3: A woman may provoke rape by their behavior or manner of dress.
Fact: No behavior or manner of dress causes or justifies rape. When someone says that a woman “is asking for it” if she dresses or acts in a certain way they are engaging in victim blaming, a practice that fails to place the onus of responsibility where it belongs, on the perpetrator.
Myth 4: Men are rarely victims of sexual violence.
Fact: Men can be and are victims of sexual violence. 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. This is a low estimate, since men are less likely to report sexual assault than women. Prevailing attitudes and biases about masculinity influence why men are even less likely to report sexual assault than women. First, there is a tendency to consider rape and sexual assault to be primarily women’s issues. This leads to the faulty assumption that only women can be victims of rape and sexual assault. Second, stereotypes about masculinity contribute to the downplaying of male victimization. When masculinity is equated with dominance and force there is little room for men to admit they have been a victim of anything, let alone sexual assault.
Myth 5: The majority of rapes and sexual assaults are by strangers.
Fact: Statistics dispel this myth. Approximately 66% of rapes were committed by individuals known to the victim and 38% of rapists were a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Often, “risk reduction” efforts aimed at women and “prevention” efforts aimed at children and youth focus on stranger danger. While stranger assaults do happen, it is far more likely that an assailant is not a stranger to the victim.
Additional websites that dispel rape myths with facts include PCAR, The Center for Women and Gender at Dartmouth College, and The Center for Women Students at Penn State.