Dispelling the myths and misconceptions about sexual assault

Myth Fact
It wasn’t rape, so it wasn’t sexual violence. Sexual violence encompasses a broad spectrum of unwanted touching and emotional manipulation.   Any unwanted sexual contact could be considered sexual assault. A survivor can be severely affected by all forms of sexual violence, including unwanted fondling, rubbing, kissing or other sexual acts. Many forms of sexual violence involve no physical contact, such as stalking, persistent pressure or distributing intimate visual recordings. All of these acts are serious in nature and would fall under the umbrella of sexualized violence.
Sexual assault can’t happen to me or anyone I know. Sexual assault can happen to anyone. People of all identities such as gender, culture, religion and socio-economic status can be survivors of sexual assault. Statistically, young women, Aboriginal women, other women of colour, transgender women and women with disabilities are at the highest risk – especially women with a combination of the aforementioned identities.
Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers. Approximately 82 per cent of reported sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor, including friends, family members, acquaintances, dating partners, and common-law or married partners.
Sexual assault is most likely to happen outside in dark, dangerous places. The majority of sexual assaults happen in private spaces such as a residence or private home.
If the survivor doesn’t report the incident to the police then it isn’t considered sexual assault. Just because a survivor doesn’t report the assault, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Less than one in 10 survivors report the crime to police due to the stigma of being sexually assaulted, for fear of repercussions from the perpetrator or distrust of the police and/or criminal justice system.
It’s not a big deal to have sex with someone while they are drunk, stoned or passed out. If a person is unconscious or incapable of consenting due to alcohol or drugs, they cannot legally give consent. Without consent, the act is considered sexual assault.
If the survivor chose to drink or use drugs, and was assaulted while intoxicated, then it isn’t considered sexual assault. This is a prominent misconception about sexual assault. No one can consent while intoxicated. If you know you will be drinking on a date or with your partner, you can choose to discuss consent and boundaries ahead of time. However, technically consent cannot be expected or given in advance.
If the survivor didn’t scream or fight back, it wasn’t sexual assault. If the survivor does not fight back, the sexual assault is their fault.
When an individual is sexually assaulted they may be extremely frightened and unable to fight back. The person may be fearful that if they struggle, the perpetrator will become more violent. If the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may be incapacitated or unable to resist.
Sexual assault is NEVER the fault of the survivor.
If the survivor didn’t say no, it must be their fault. People who commit sexual assault are trying to gain power and control over a person. They want to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the person to say no. A person does not need to actually say the word “no” to make it clear that they do not want to participate.
If a person isn’t crying or visibly upset, it wasn’t sexual assault. Every person responds to the trauma of sexual assault differently. The person may cry or be very calm. They may be silent or very angry. The survivor’s behaviour is not a complete indicator of their experience. Traumatic experiences can sometimes cause a person to disassociate from the incident in order to deal with it, so it is important not to judge a person by how they respond to the assault.
If someone does not have obvious physical injuries, like cuts or bruises, they were not sexually assaulted. Lack of physical injury does not mean that a person wasn’t sexually assaulted or victimized by sexual violence. A perpetrator may use threats, weapons or other coercive actions that do not leave physical marks. The person may have been unconscious or been otherwise incapacitated.
If it really happened, the survivor would be able to easily recount all the facts in the proper order. Shock, fear, embarrassment and/or distress can all impair memory. Many survivors attempt to minimize or forget the details of an assault as a way of coping with the trauma. If alcohol and/or drugs were involved, that can also be a large determinant of memory loss.
Individuals lie and make up stories about being sexually assaulted. Most reports of sexual assault turn out to be false. According to Statistics Canada, fewer than one in 10 sexual assault survivors report the crime to police. That means 90 per cent of people who survive sexual violence do not report the assault because of the stigma of being a survivor, fear of the perpetrator or distrust of police and/or the criminal justice system. Less than two per cent of sexual assault reports are false, which is the same false reporting rate as all other major crimes.
Individuals with disabilities don’t get sexually assaulted. Individuals with disabilities are actually at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence. Those who live with activity limitations are two-times more likely to be survivors of sexual assault than those who are able-bodied.
A spouse or significant other cannot sexually assault their partner. Sexual assault can occur in a marriage or other intimate partner relationships. The truth is, sexual assault occurs ANY TIME there is no consent for sexual activity. Being in a relationship does not exclude the possibility of, or justify, sexual assault. A person has the right to say “no” at any time and to anyone.
People who are sexually assaulted “ask for it” by their provocative behaviour or dress. Nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted. Someone has deliberately chosen to be violent toward another person. No mode of dress, no amount of alcohol or drugs, no relationship or no occupation (including sex worker) is an invitation for sexual assault. Sexual assault is always wrong, and it is against the law.
Sexual assault only happens to women. The majority of sexual assaults are committed against women by men, but people of all genders and from all backgrounds have been or can be sexually assaulted.
Men are rarely sexually assaulted. Estimates show that one in eight men will experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetime. Sexual violence can happen to anyone, including men.
If you got aroused or got an erection or ejaculated you must have enjoyed it. It is normal for your body to react to physical stimulation. Just because you became physically aroused does not mean that you liked it, wanted it or consented in any way. If you experienced some physical pleasure, this does not mean that the sexual abuse didn’t happen or negate any post-traumatic feelings or emotions.