This April marks National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It's estimated that in America, a person is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds, a gut-wrenching statistic that's made even more upsetting by the cluster of myths and misconceptions surrounding rape and sexual crimes. What should be black and white — no means no, every person's body is their own, sexual violation is a serious violent crime — is instead strangely grey. And you yourself might carry a few of these myths around unknowingly, too, because they pop up so often. It's myth-exploding time.
Especially since the realities of prosecuting sexual assaulters can seem bleak: Bill Cosby continues to be at liberty, despite so many allegations of sexual abuse that it takes a 10-year timeline to make sense of them all; untested rape kits have piled up in their thousands, denying victims their chance at justice for decades; and it's estimated by legal experts that only two in every 100 sexual assaulters will serve any time for their offense. But part of the process of change is shifting society's views about the real definition of assault, what consent actually means, and how the victim's sobriety, clothing, and previous relationship with the victim often have no bearing whatsoever on what happened.
So if you hear any of these 13 myths, SHUT THEM DOWN. Let everybody know that they're rubbish; shout it from the rooftops if you have to. It's time to make this stop.
Myth #1: "If you say yes and then no, it's not assault."
The Truth: Everybody has the right to change their mind about sex (and no, it's not "being a tease," either). Just because they said yes at any point doesn't mean that they aren't allowed to refuse consent later, or that ignoring that "no" doesn't constitute a crime.
Myth #2: "If you were drunk, it's your fault you got assaulted."
The Truth: It doesn't matter what you're on or what has impaired your judgement. If you didn't consent fully to what's happening to you, it's assault. And it definitely isn't your fault for getting drunk, either. Every adult has the right to get tipsy without fearing the worst.
Myth #3: "If you didn't fight back, it's not assault."
The Truth: This is a common one, and it's downright awful. Victims report doing everything possible to stay safe, from kicking and screaming to lying quietly — but that doesn't mean they "allowed it," enjoyed it, or consented. If you're in an incredibly vulnerable situation, sometimes not fighting back is the safest option.
Myth #4: "You're probably lying because you had consensual sex and regretted it."
The Truth: This is a major obstacle to the reporting of assaults: victims don't think they'll be believed. The idea that women, in particular, lie about being raped to cover up sex they're ashamed about is a ridiculous myth, and seriously damaging. The minuscule occurrence of people lying about rape (just 44 people were jailed for false accusations of rape in 2012 in the U.K., out of a total of nearly 69,000 reported offenses, for example) doesn't stop the media making them a huge focus, and spreading doubt about rape accusations in general.
Myth #5: "Being sexually assaulted will ruin your future dating life."
The Truth: The idea that a sexually assaulted person is "ruined" for future sexual partners is a deep one, and very upsetting. Sexual assault is a serious psychological burden, and all victims are advised to get therapeutic help to get them through the shame and feeling of being "dirty," but it's perfectly possible for them to go on to lead happy, healthy, fun sex lives.
Myth #6: "Rapists and sexual assaulters are more likely to be strangers."
The Truth: If the image you have of sexual assault is a stranger in a hoodie chasing somebody down a dark alley, think again. RAINN estimates that about two-thirds of all assaulters are known to the victim, and that 38 percent are a friend or acquaintance.
Myth #7: "If you can't remember it properly, it's not assault."
The Truth: Sexual assault is a very traumatic experience that plays tricks on the mind. If a victim can't remember or piece together the events properly, it doesn't mean it didn't happen; it means that a serious and horrible thing occurred, and the shock and fear damaged their perceptions.
Myth #8: "If you had sex with the person previously, it's not assault."
The Truth: Just because you said yes once doesn't mean you can automatically be assumed to say yes at every opportunity thereafter. Consent isn't like buying a month-long train ticket; it expires after every occasion.
Myth #9: "If you're married or dating, it's not sexual assault."
The Truth: Absolutely not. Assault can happen within committed relationships just as much as it can outside of them. Dating doesn't constitute consent. Accepting flowers or chocolates or going out for dinner doesn't constitute consent. Being married doesn't mean you "owe" your partner sex and it's OK to force you. All nonsense.
Myth #10: "All rapists and sexual assaulters are mentally ill or deeply disturbed."
The Truth: Perpetrators of sexual crimes aren't all insane — or even mostly insane. They're not being driven mad by their uncontrollable arousal, either. Most sexual assault is about power and control rather than just sexual gratification, and the unfortunate reality is that the majority of people who do it are just as sane as you or I.
Myth #11: "Women are never perpetrators."
The Truth: The idea that men can never be victims of sexual assault is a hugely damaging one. Men suffer sexual assault too, just in smaller proportions, and it's also not true that if they ejaculate it means they consented. It's estimated that up to 10 percent of all sexual assaults are committed against males in the U.S. That's not exactly a tiny slice.
Myth #12: "If you wore a short dress or tight clothing, it's your fault."
The Truth: How many times do we have to do this? Short dresses don't = consent. Tight jeans don't mean consent. Nakedness doesn't mean consent. Nothing means consent except actually consenting. If you don't consent, it's sexual assault.
Myth #13: "If you didn't go to police right away, it's pointless to report sexual assault."
The Truth: This one is both damaging and completely wrong; just because you were too scared or embarrassed (or convinced by one of the above myths) to report it at the time, doesn't mean it wasn't a crime. The Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica puts it best: "It is never too late to make a police report or to seek help. Many sexual assault victims do not report the crime immediately. A delayed report is better than no report at all."
Heed those words; the professionals should know that even if you didn't report it immediately, it still happened. And give your best Judge Judy face to anybody who tries to talk you out of it.