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There are many myths that surround sexual violence and it is important to dispel these for several reasons. Myths can make it more difficult for people to report what has happened or to seek help. This means that crimes go undetected, offenders continue to pose a threat to others and victims have no access to the vital support they need. Some of the most common myths include:

Sometimes women make themselves vulnerable to rape by dressing or acting provocatively

This is one of the oldest myths and is used as a justification or excuse for sexual violence. In reality women from all backgrounds, classes and ages are raped and how they act, look or what they wear has no impact on this. We know that children are raped, as are women in their 80s and 90s. Rape is an act of violence not of sex.

Prostitutes can’t get raped

Prostitutes are very vulnerable to assaults and violence. Studies from the USA show that over 80% of prostitutes are regularly physically assaulted by ‘customers’ whilst over 60% are raped. Studies also show that the majority of women who work as prostitutes have been physically or sexually abused as children. Many women working as prostitutes do so because of drug or alcohol abuse that is linked to their painful experiences as children. Paying someone for sex does not provide violent men with permission to rape or physically abuse someone.

You can’t rape someone you’re married to

Rape within marriage has been illegal since 1991 – the law applies to everyone equally whether they are married or not. The fact that you are married to someone does not mean that you have control over what they do or when they have sex.

Women often say no when they mean yes

Rape is an humiliating, frightening and often violent experience that no woman wants or asks for. The law is clear – a person has the right to change their mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at the time a person says no, this is sexual assault. This is true whatever the circumstances and whatever the relationship is between the two people. Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sex without consent is rape.

Most men who rape are mentally ill

Studies have shown this not to be the case with very few convicted rapists being treated for a mental illness and only 5% showing signs of psychotic illness.

Men who rape are sexually frustrated

There is no evidence to suggest that men who are not in active sexual relationships are any more likely to rape than those who are. In fact studies show that the majority of men who are found guilty of rape are married or living with someone with whom they are having an active sexual relationship. Rape is a way of humiliating or exerting power over someone, it is not about the need to have sex.

Most rapes happen when people have been drinking / taking drugs

There is no evidence to support this – although some rapists might use it as an excuse. The law also makes it very clear that if a person is unconscious or their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give their consent. Having non-consensual sex with a person who is intoxicated is rape.

Once a man is sexually aroused he cannot help himself, he has to have sex

Men can quite easily control their urges to have sex and do so regularly. Rape is not about sexual gratification – it is an act of dominance and control and in many cases it is actually pre-planned.

If you don’t fight back, you haven’t been raped

Men who rape will often use weapons or threats of violence to intimidate and terrify their victims. There is also a lot of evidence from both male and female survivors of rape that when we are attacked, the fear of violence makes us freeze and stops us from fighting back. This means that the likelihood of serious physical injury is reduced. The fact that there is no visible evidence of violence does not mean that a person has not been raped.

People often make up stories about rape to cover up embarrassment following consensual sex

The British Crime Survey shows that rape is actually hugely under-reported to the police and false allegations of rape are still very rare. The police tell us that only about 5% of allegations of rape are false – this is in line with that of other crimes.

Women should always stay off the streets late at night as this is the time they are most likely to be attacked

The vast majority of rapes are committed by men against women they know in their own homes. Over 97% of callers to the national Rape Crisis line had been raped by men they knew or were in a relationship with.

Women don’t rape

Under the current law only a man can be charged with the offence of rape as the penetration has to be with a penis. However, there are cases where women are assaulted by other women and in rare cases men have been seriously sexually assaulted by a woman. If the penetration is with something other than a penis, then the offence is assault by penetration.

Police and Crime Commissioner, North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, BBC Children in Need, Leading Light Accreditation by Safe Lives
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