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Myths and Facts


There are many myths about the crime of rape which make things harder for women and girls who have experienced rape or sexual assault. These myths are dangerous because they hide the truth and leave many women and girls who have suffered rape and sexual abuse to cope with the assault alone and in silence.


MYTH: Rapists are strangers

FACT: The British crime survey in 2002 found that in fact 92% rapes were perpetrated by someone the victim knew. They could be friends, relatives, boyfriends, husbands, family, neighbours, colleagues, ex-husbands or ex- partners or the nice guy you met in a bar/club.


MYTH: Being raped by someone you know is not as bad as being raped by a total stranger

FACT: Any rape can have a devastating effect on a woman’s life. Rape is harmful whether the woman is attacked by a total stranger or suffers an abuse of trust by someone she already knows. It can be hard to trust anyone after being raped by someone who you thought was a friend.


MYTH: It cannot be rape unless there has been an act of physical violence such as beating or cutting or using a weapon and in some way physically injuring the woman.

FACT: Some attackers badly beat and severely injure the woman, but most do not. Any form of sexual intercourse without consent is a violent act in itself and is legally rape. For many rapists, the threat of further violence, implicit or explicit, is enough to terrify the woman.


MYTH: If she went with him, took a piece of clothing off or otherwise 'helped', that means it wasn't rape.

FACT: Compliance does not mean consent. Women do what is necessary to survive, and sometimes this means doing what the rapist asks, out of fear, not consent.


MYTH: Women say no when they mean yes.

FACT: While some women may have been socialised into believing that it is wrong for them to want sex and that they should play hard to get, when a woman says “no” she means “no”. Sex without consent is rape.


MYTH: Rape only happens in dark alleys.

FACT: The majority of rapes are committed inside a building, and for many of these, in the women's own home.


MYTH: Women enjoy rape. Some women ask for it. Women lead the rapist on.

FACT: It is handy to be able to blame the woman in this way - it lets the attackers off the hook and it helps other people to feel safe. If you believe that women are to blame when they suffer rape, then you might imagine that you can protect yourself by being careful and sensible. The truth is that an attack can take place against any woman, at any time, and in any place. Rape is a violation, and the victim is often afraid that her attacker will kill her.


MYTH: Rape is just sex when a woman does not want it.

FACT: Sexual assault or rape is not sex. It involves taking control of a woman’s body against her will. In many studies, rapists have admitted that rape is more about power and violence than about sex.


MYTH: Rape can only happen to certain kinds of women: women who dress provocatively, women who sleep around, women who drink alcohol, or women who go out alone.

FACT: Women and girls of all ages from infants to grandmothers have suffered rape. Rape is perpetrated against women with disabilities and able-bodied women, straight, bi or gay women, married or single, trans or cis women, women who were abused as girls and women who were not, from all classes, all races, all religions and all cultures. This is regardless of how they dress, where they live, or how they act. It is offensive and ignorant to suggest that by wearing a mini-skirt or a low-cut top a woman is asking to be humiliated and hurt. If you believe that women are to blame when they suffer rape then you might imagine that can protect yourself by being careful and sensible. In reality, before a woman gets dressed, puts on make-up, has a drink or even speaks to the man, he has already decided what he is going to do.


MYTH: Rape is a crime of sexual needs or uncontrollable urges.

FACT: Men can, and do, control their sexual urges, and it is offensive to say otherwise. Rape is a crime of violence, control, degradation and intimidation - it is not about sex but about power. The vast majority of rapes are carefully planned.


MYTH: She wanted it really.

FACT: This is part of the idea that all women want, need and/or enjoy being taken by force and that she only said “no” to take away the need to feel guilty. Women do not want, need or enjoy being threatened, humiliated, degraded, violated, beaten or being afraid for their lives.


MYTH: She could have stopped the rape if she had really wanted to.

FACT: Most men are stronger than women and rapists use this physical advantage to prevent women from resisting successfully. During a rape a woman sometimes becomes paralysed by fear. In addition rapists sometimes threaten women with weapons or fists, or with harm to their children and loved ones. Psychological coercion or the exploitation of power imbalances between the rapist and the woman – especially when they know each other – can also be used to manipulate women. Regardless of how much physical force the rapist used or did not use, he is the guilty party, not the girl or woman.


MYTH: If she doesn’t struggle or call out then she must be consenting

FACT: Freezing during rape is a very common reaction, and never indicates consent. It is a completely natural, instinctive response – it is the same as when a fox is trapped in headlights. It can involve losing their power of speech, or being so shocked that she feels like the rape is happening to someone else. This is our body’s way of protecting ourselves from the trauma of rape. It is easy in retrospect to say that I should have put up fight or screamed and shouted, but the reality at the time is quite different.


MYTH: Women and girls make up stories about rape and sexual assault. She only said it because she got pregnant. She only said it because she regretted having sexual intercourse.  She only said it to get sympathy.  She only said it to destroy his reputation.

FACT: Many studies have shown that the level of false reporting of rape is about the same as that for any other crime; about 2%.


MYTH: A rapist is not normal. Rapists are sex-fiends, maniacs, monsters, pathetic, sick. Rapists are madmen.

FACT: Many rapists appear perfectly normal. They often have steady jobs and consensual relationships with wives and girlfriends. There are very few convicted rapists who are diagnosed as having psychiatric problems.  Studies have shown that around 6% of men will confess to rape if you describe it without using the word 'rape'.


MYTH: A raped woman is a ruined woman.  Rape is worse than death

FACT: It is true that sexual violence of any kind often has a profound impact on a woman's life.  However, many women go on to lead happy, successful lives.

MYTH: She just needs to talk about it, then she'll be fine

FACT: This myth is seen in many films/TV programmes in which a woman finally 'opening up' about her experiences leads to her complete, almost instant recovery.  While talking about your feelings helps a lot of people, dealing with the effects of sexual violence is a long process for most women.  No woman should feel forced to remember and recount details of the violence before she feels ready to do so.