Sexual Violence Myths & Facts

There is much misinformation that circulates about sexual violence and the people affected by it.  Although many would say, ‘I don’t believe those myths’ these myths are common and affect survivors of sexual violence.  These myths also affect the behavior, indeed the effectiveness, of friends, family, social and medical services and law enforcement.  For these reasons, this fact sheet will clarify some common myths.

Myth:  Sexual assault is an act of lust and passion.

Fact:  Sexual assault and abuse are about power and control used to dominate, punish or humiliate another person or group of people.[1]

Myth:  If a rape victim does not fight back, they must not have thought the rape was that bad.

Fact:  Many victims are in a state of shock, absolute fear or confusion when being raped.  Fighting back may not be an option a victim is able to utilize.

Myth:  Claims of being raped are often to get revenge on the alleged rapist.

Fact:  Only 2-8% of sexual assault cases are based on false accusations.  This percentage of unsubstantiated reports is similar to other reported crimes.[2]

Myth:  A person cannot sexually assault their partner. 

Fact:  Regardless of marital or social relationship, if a person does not consent to sexual activity, they’re being raped.  Rape of a partner or spouse occurs with heterosexual and non-heterosexual couples.

Myth:  Rapes most often occur outdoors; such as alleys or behind buildings.  

Fact:  Most rapes (60%) take place at a victim’s home or at or near a friend’s home.[3]

Myth:  Rape really does not happen that often.

Fact:  It is estimated that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted or abused in her lifetime.[4]  For men there is less data, but figures suggest a range of 1 in 10 to 1 in 33 men will have been sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetime.[5]

Myth:  Most sexual assault victims are badly beaten or beaten into submission.  

Fact:  In most cases, the victim is initially subdued by the rapist’s verbal threats or coercion, or by a fear of being killed.

Myth:  People who have really been raped will be hysterical and crying.  

Fact:  Victims/ survivors can react in various ways.  Reactions to sexual assault can include calmness, anger, shock, confusion, laughter, fear, withdrawal from society, hysteria.

Myth:  Sexual assault is an impulsive act.  

Fact:  Seventy-five percent of sexual assaults are planned in advance.  When sexual assault involves two or three assailants, the percentage that are planned are 83% and 90%.2

Myth:  If a man is forced to penetrate someone, he’s not being raped.

Fact:  If a person is engaged in sexual activity without consenting to it, s/he is being sexually assaulted or abused.

Myth:  Wearing sexy or provocative clothing makes rapists take action.  

Fact:  Rapists are fully responsible for their actions.  Most convicted rapists admit they don’t remember what the victim was wearing.

Myth:  In most rapes, the rapist is a man of color and the victim is a white woman.

Fact:  Most reported rapes are intra-racial, they involve people of the same race.[6]

Myth:  If a person (especially a child) stays away from strangers, they’ll be safe from rape.

Fact:  Most rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.  Children most commonly are raped or abused by someone known to them or known to their family.[7]

Myth:  Being raped by someone of the same gender can make a person gay or lesbian.  

Fact:  There is no proof that trauma changes sexual orientation.  Trauma may affect any survivor’s social, eating, sleeping and communicating habits.

Myth:  Only young, pretty women get raped.

Fact:  Survivors vary in age from infants to the elderly.  Appearance is not the priority for a rapist, vulnerability is.  Rapists often target children, people with disabilities, elderly, people who are homeless or poor, family members or partners.

Myth:  People with disabilities are not sexually active and are at low risk for sexual assault or abuse.

Fact:  People with disabilities are sexually active.  Sexual assault is about power and control and taking advantage of vulnerability.  People with disabilities are very much at risk for domestic violence and sexual violence.

Myth:  There is nothing we can do about sexual violence.

Fact:  Research shows that all forms of oppression are interrelated and connected to the acceptance of rape myths, with sexism having the highest overlap. Sexual violence can be combated with information, education and action.  Confronting sexism, prejudice and oppression affects the power dynamics that feed into our rape culture.[8]

Myth:  Getting help will only make things worse and be expensive.  

Fact: There are many free resources available to help minimize the risk of retraumitization. Survivors who have the assistance of an advocate in the emergency room report less distress from their medical experience, have significantly fewer negative interpersonal interactions and are more likely to have a police report taken.[9]

[1] Lisak, D., PhD.

Rape Fact Sheet: Perpetrators Characteristics

[2] City of Virginia Beach: Myths vs Facts

[3]United States Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics

Criminal Victimization in the United States

[4] National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence  Against Women Survey (1998)

[5] U.S. Department of Justice

2003 National Crime Victimization Survey(2003)

National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.

[6] South, S., & Felson, R. (1990). The Racial Patterning of Rape. Social Forces, 69(1), 71-93. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

[7] National Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003.  

[8] Aosved, A., & Long, P. (2006). Co-occurrence of Rape Myth Acceptance, Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, Ageism, Classism, and Religious Intolerance. Sex Roles, 55(7/8), 481-492. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9101-4.

[9] Campbell, R. (2006). Rape Survivors’ Experiences With the Legal and Medical Systems. Violence Against Women, 12(1), 30-45.