Myths and Facts

Many myths exist about sexual violence. Please read through our comprehensive list of myths and remember: sexual violence is a human rights issue – anyone can experience sexual violence.

Myth: Sexual assault is rare.

Fact: Unfortunately, sexual assault happens frequently in our society. In Canada, 39% of women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault since the age of 16. Every six minutes in Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted, and every 17 minutes sexual intercourse is forced upon a woman (Juristat Service Bulletin, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics). Unfortunately there has been little research done on male sexual assault, but we know it’s happening.

Myth: Only women can be sexually assaulted.

Fact: Although people think of sexual assault as a women’s issue, males are also vulnerable to sexual abuse. Most males have experienced their sexual abuse as children or as teenagers, as one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 (Bagley, Wood & Young). However, men can also be assaulted by men or women as adults.

Myth: Women who dress provocatively are asking to be sexually assaulted.

Fact: Reports show that sexual assault happens in communities where dress is considered to be conservative; this shows that clothing does not determine who gets assaulted. Clothes do not speak for an individual. Women and men have the right to wear any style of clothing they choose without fear of being assaulted. An offender makes a choice to sexually assault and then justifies it through a sense of entitlement; perhaps blaming a woman for ‘leading him/her on’ with sexy clothing. Society excuses the offender’s actions by reinforcing the myth that an offender cannot control physical urges brought on by seeing a person in sexy clothing.

Myth: Women who choose to be out alone at night have a higher chance of being sexually assaulted.

Fact: The truth is, 80% of the time, women are assaulted in their homes; 49% of these attacks occur in broad daylight (Juristat Service Bulletin, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1994). Everyone has the right to be alone at night. Regardless of the situation, no one asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted. The offender is always 100% responsible for the assault.

Myth: People who are labelled “easy” cannot be sexually assaulted.

Fact: Whether or not someone has had multiple sexual partners, their rights to consent do not change. This includes people in the sex trade. Every time a person becomes sexually active with another, consent is required. If a person has consented to sexual relations before with a partner, it doesn’t mean that consent is automatic.

Myth: People lie about being sexually assaulted.

Fact: The rate of false reporting for incidents of sexual assault is 2-8%; this is the same as for other crimes (National District Attorney’s Office). Sexual assault has a very low reporting rate. Only 6% of sexual assaults are reported to the police and only 1% of date rapes are reported (Ontario Women’s Directorate). Many people do not report their assaults to the police for fear of not being believed.

Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that impacts every aspect of an individual. It takes a tremendous amount of courage for an individual to tell somebody; especially with the silence, shame, and myths reinforced by society. There is a big difference between feeling regret & feeling violated.

Myth: People with activity limitations (disabilities) are less likely to be sexually assaulted.

Fact: People with activity limitations are actually more vulnerable in our society because they rely so heavily on other people. They have a much higher risk of being sexually abused —at least 2.4 times higher than people without activity limitations since they’re often in situations where they cannot advocate for their rights (Criminal Victimization and Health, 2009).

Myth: People commit sexual assault because they are mentally ill, perverted or can’t control their sexual urges.

Fact: Sexual assault is about power & control, not sex. It violates not only a survivor’s personal integrity, but also his or her sense of safety & control over life. Studies indicate that perpetrators are usually “normal” people; that they often have families, jobs, and can be respected members of their community. Men who sexually assault are NOT likely to have a greater desire for sex (Johnson).

Myth: When sexual assault occurs, it is usually committed by a stranger.

Fact: In most cases of sexual assault, the offender is known to the survivor —either an employer, co-worker, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, neighbour, or relative. For example, a 2004 report shows that only 18% of sexual assaults that were reported to the police involved strangers as the offenders (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics); the highest proportions of these assaults (28%) were committed by a casual acquaintance of the survivor.

Myth: Sexual assault offenders are easily recognized.

Fact: Most sexual assault offenders appear to look & act “normally”. They are often, young, married, and can be of any race, ability, or economic class. In fact, 50% of offenders at the time of assaults are known to be married or living common-law, have children, and are considered responsible members of the community (Juristat Service Bulletin, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics).

Myth: It’s only sexual assault if the survivor was beaten & bleeding, or if he or she was threatened with a weapon.

Fact: According to the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent, regardless of whether or not there are physical injuries present, or whether the assault took place with the use of a weapon. According to one study, 86% of women who were sexually assaulted experienced little or no physical injury (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004). Our Canadian Criminal Code was changed in 1983 to reflect the level of physical violence use during a sexual assault; level one sexual assaults are the most common.

Myth: Survivors of sexual violence are easily identifiable.

Fact: Survivors of sexual violence cope & heal in different ways. Survivors may express more common emotions such as anger, mistrust or sadness, but if he or she doesn’t express these types of reactions, it doesn’t mean the assault never happened. People experience a range of emotions and express them differently, which makes it impossible to identify a survivor of sexual violence. All feelings & thoughts expressed by the survivor are normal. You may know people close to you and not know they have experienced sexual violence. Another reason to get the facts!

Myth: If offenders are under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the sexual assault they cannot be held responsible for their actions.

Fact: Offenders are responsible for their actions regardless of whether or not they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Being intoxicated does not excuse the actions of the offender and is not an acceptable legal defence. The offender made a choice to offend even if they were drunk or high. For more information on drugs & alcohol and assault, read about victim blaming.

Myth: When a woman says, “No,” she is just playing hard to get.

Fact: If a person says, “No,” to sexual intimacy, it should never be assumed that the statement means anything else. In order for both parties to feel comfortable and in control, assumptions should be avoided. A person may feel he or she is getting mixed messages but that is not an excuse for him or her to commit sexual assault. If it is unclear what his or her partner wants, communication is the only way to make sure both people feel safe & comfortable with the level of intimacy happening. It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual contact to obtain consent and not misinterpret a ‘no’ statement.

Myth: Someone in a committed relationship (marriage, dating, common-law) cannot be sexually assaulted by his or her partner.

Fact: Entering into a relationship does not give anyone the right or ownership of another person’s body. Even in a committed relationship there are still two separate individuals involved, and they each have the right to communicate the word ‘no’. Being in a committed relationship is no different than any kind of hook up, when it comes to consent. Therefore, every time two people engage in sexual activities, consent must be clearly given.

Myth: Only young, beautiful, sexy women are sexually assaulted.

Fact: All people are vulnerable to sexual assault. Anybody of any age, race, class, religion, sexual identity, gender, occupation, activity limitations (disabilities), or physical appearance can be sexually assaulted.

Myth: Once a person starts to engage in a sexual activity, he or she cannot change his or her mind.

Fact: Everyone has the right to have control over what happens to his or her body. People can choose with whom, when, and for how long any activity takes place. No matter how deep the level of intimacy, even if the couple is actively engaged in sex, either person has the right to change his or her mind and stop the activity at any time. You’ve heard it before: a kiss is not a contract.

Myth: If your date pays for a nice dinner, you owe him or her sex in exchange.

Fact: If a date pays for dinner or a movie he or she is not entitled to sex, or anything for that matter, even if the date cost $250. Consent is always necessary, regardless of any meals, gifts, or favours someone offers you. Willingness to engage in sexual activity must always happen without any feelings of guilt or pressure for compensation.

Myth: If a woman wants to prevent being sexually assaulted, she should not drink too much, and should keep an eye on her drink at all times.

Fact: Drugs and alcohol are often used in sexual assaults as a way to justify an offender’s action, and to deflect the responsibility back on the survivor (especially a woman). In Canada, anyone who is over the legal drinking age has the freedom to consume alcohol and should not be expected to limit their consumption in order to avoid being assaulted. Sexual assaults do not occur because a victim or offender has been drinking. A perpetrator is making a choice to assault, whether the survivor has been drinking or not.

Myth: If a person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol and can’t give consent (aka is passed out), it’s ok to have sex with him or her.

Fact: Under the Canadian Federal Law, anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot consent to sexual activities. We realize that this is a complicated issue. If you have any questions about drugs & alcohol and sexual violence, please feel free to contact us at anytime.

Myth: People fantasize about being raped.

Fact: The difference between aggressive sex & sexual assault is the level of control someone has over another. During aggressive sex, boundaries are respected and both partners feel in control. On the other hand, when a person’s boundaries are crossed and violated, the control is taken away. This is considered sexual assault. It is an act of violence; no one would want or choose to be raped.

(Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA))

Myth: Males can’t be sexually assaulted

REALITY: Men can be, and are, sexually assaulted every day. It can happen to any male, regardless of his sexual orientation, size, strength, appearance, occupation, race or culture. It happens at home, at work, in locker rooms and in cars — just about anywhere a perpetrator thinks he can get away with it. It’s not unusual for a male victim to “freeze” out of shock or fear of physical harm. Few, if any, males have ever considered the possibility of such a thing happening, and are therefore totally unprepared.

Myth: Only gay males are sexually assaulted

REALITY: The incidence of sexual assault involving gay male victims is slightly higher than for heterosexual males, but this is largely due to the fact that gay men can become the target of anti-gay violence perpetuated by other men. Heterosexual males can be, and are, sexually assaulted in large numbers.

Myth: Only gay men sexually assault other males

REALITY: The vast majority of male offenders who sexually abuse or assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. Some offenders target males simply because it gives them a greater feeling of dominance, power and control than abusing a woman. Sexual assault is usually much more about violence and anger than it is about lust or sexual attraction. The vast majority of males who target boys for sexual abuse aren’t gay.

Myth: Males who experience child sexual abuse will grow up to become abusers themselves

REALITY: Although premature sexual experiences often cause profound emotional damage to boys, most male survivors don’t repeat the abuses that happened to them. In fact, statistics show that many men who commit sexual abuse or sexual assault actually suffered from something OTHER than child sexual abuse (most likely physical or emotional abuse or witnessing domestic violence) when they were young.

Myth: Males can’t be sexually assaulted by females

REALITY: Women can and do sexually abuse and assault men, but it rarely gets reported by the survivor. If you include emotional blackmail as a way of forcing a male to submit to sexual assault, then the number of crimes greatly increases. Sexual assault of a male by a female does not have to involve penile penetration; a female attacker can use sex toys or other foreign objects on an unwilling male. It’s also not uncommon for males to experience involuntary erections during a sexual assault.

Myth: Getting an erection or ejaculating during a sexual assault means the survivor “really wanted it” or even consented

REALITY: This myth causes major issues of guilt and confusion for all male survivors. Physical stimulation can cause an erection whether the recipient wants it to happen or not. Pressure in the prostate gland can cause the same reaction. Having an erection or ejaculation is a normal, involuntary physiological response, and does not automatically equate with arousal — or with consent. A male survivor may be bewildered or confused about his physiological response during the event, or may feel guilt or shame, and may therefore be inclined not to report it.

Myth: If the perpetrator is a woman, a boy or teenager should consider himself to have been “initiated” into the exciting world of sex

REALITY: No matter who provokes it — a relative, babysitter, teacher, boss or other woman in a position of power or authority over a young male — that kind of sexual experience is all about control and domination, not gratification and pleasure. Premature or forced sex causes confusion, anger, depression and other major psychological problems. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person is always abusive and traumatizing.

Myth: Males who are sexually assaulted don’t suffer as much as females who are assaulted: after all, they don’t risk becoming pregnant

REALITY: All sexual assault survivors suffer many of the same reactions: depression, anger, anxiety, confusion, fear, numbness, self-blame, helplessness, suicidal feelings and shame are common ones. Some responses are gender specific, others are not. Sexual assault directed against gay men is more likely to involve higher levels of violence, use of weapons and multiple assailants. Statistically, male survivors are at higher risk of committing suicide. And while they don’t become pregnant, male survivors of anal rape are at a high risk of internal damage, which leads to a greater possibility of HIV infection.

Myth: Sexual assault between gay partners does not exist

REALITY: Sexual abuse and sexual assault can occur within any relationship. Through physical, psychological or emotional coercion, some gay men are forced by their partners to engage in non-consensual sexual acts. A gay man in a committed relationship is not the sexual property of his partner.

Please remember, anyone can be sexually assaulted regardless of age, ability, appearance, race, profession, gender, or income.

(Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services website: www.aasas.ca)
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