Here are a few examples of common sexual violence myths. This list is by no means an exhaustive list of sexual violence myths, but it provides a starting point to challenging behaviours and attitudes.
Myth: Someone who's willingly drunk lots of alcohol or taken drugs shouldn't complain if they end up being raped or sexually assaulted.
Fact: In law, consent to sex is when someone agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If a person is unconscious or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, they are unable to give their consent to sex. Having sex with a person who is incapacitated through alcohol or drugs is rape. No-one asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted; 100% of the responsibility lies with the perpetrator. Everyone has the right to live their life free from the fear and experiences of sexual violence.
Myth: When it comes to sex, women and girls sometimes 'play hard to get' and say 'no' when they really mean 'yes'.
Fact: Everyone has the legal right to say 'no' to sex and to change their mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact; if the other person doesn't stop, they are committing sexual assault or rape. When it comes to sex, we must respect the wishes of our sexual partner and believe what they tell us about what they do and don't want. A golden rule of thumb is to stop and ask your partner/ other person if they want to go ahead with the act if they appear unsure or say no, and give a safe word, such as in ‘role-plays’ and other acts, where continuous asking might not be feasible.
Myth: My partner/spouse sometimes just acts ‘pricey’ and ask me to only sleep with them/cuddle them without having sex. They would secretly enjoy if I penetrate them/have sex with them.
Fact: This is a dangerous belief that many people often have, and it clearly is rape/sexual assault by penetration. If your partner consented to one form of sexual act, for example, cuddle or rubbing, and not another such as penile or object penetration, you should respect their choice. A partner before or after marriage might have any reason for not wanting sex, and if they have asked you to specifically refrain from it, still going on to have sex only amounts to rape.
Myth: It's not a big deal if I have unprotected sex with my partner/ a person who agreed to have sex with me even if they asked me to wear a condom.
Fact: Consent is specific, that is, if your partner has sex with you based on the condition of having protected sex, violating that condition amounts to sexual violence. For example, stealthing- where a partner/person removes their condom just before ejaculation despite their partner wanting them to have protected sex all along is a form of sexual violence.
Myth: If two people have had sex with each other before, it's always OK to have sex again.
Fact: If a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them before, this does not mean that they cannot be sexually assaulted or raped by that person. Consent must be given and received every time two people engage in sexual contact. It is important to check in with our sexual partners and make sure that anything sexual that happens between us is what we both want, every time.
Myth: My faith/personal belief prohibits me from having sex before marriage. So, I don’t have to worry about consent.
Fact: Consent is a dynamic foundation of respectful relationships, whether before or after marriage. You cannot force yourself, coerce someone else into a sexual act just because you are married to that person. Marital or spousal rape is a punishable crime in the UK and is considered a form of domestic violence.
Myth: Once a man is sexually aroused he cannot help himself; he has to have sex.
Fact: Men can control their urges to have sex just as women can; no-one needs to rape someone for sexual satisfaction. Rape is an act of violence and control, not sexual gratification. It cannot be explained away and there are no excuses.
Myth: People who were sexually abused as children are likely to become abusers themselves.
Fact: This is a dangerous myth, which is sometimes used to try and explain or excuse the behaviour of those who rape and sexually abuse children. It is offensive and unhelpful to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The vast majority of those who are sexually abused as children will never perpetrate sexual violence against others. There is no excuse or explanation for sexual violence against children or adults.
Myth: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to commit sexual violence.
Fact: There is no typical rapist. People who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group.
Myth: Men don't get raped and women don't commit sexual offences.
Fact: The majority of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men against women and children but women do perpetrate sexual violence. Any man or boy can be sexually assaulted, regardless of size, strength or appearance. Often people who've been sexually assaulted or abused by a woman are particularly fearful that they will not be believed or that their experiences won't be considered 'as bad' as being raped by a man. This can make it especially difficult for these survivors to access services or justice.
Myth: Women are most likely to be raped after dark by a stranger, so women shouldn't go out alone at night.
Fact: Only around 10% of rapes are committed by 'strangers'. Around 90% of rapes are committed by known men, and often by someone who the survivor has previously trusted or even loved. People are raped in their homes, their workplaces and other settings where they have previously felt safe. Rapists can be friends, colleagues, clients, neighbours, family members, partners or exes. Risk of rape shouldn't be used as an excuse to control women's movements and restrict their rights and freedom.
Myth: People often lie about being raped because they regret having sex with someone or out of spite or for attention.
Fact: Disproportionate media focus on false rape allegations perpetuates the public perception that lying about sexual violence is common when in fact the opposite is true. False allegations of rape are very rare. The vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason for this is the fear of not being believed. It's really important we challenge this myth so those who've experienced sexual violence can get the support and justice they need and deserve.
Myth: Only young, 'attractive' women and girls, who flirt and wear 'revealing' clothes, are raped or sexually assaulted.
Fact: People of all ages and appearances, and of all classes, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, races and religions, are raped. Rape is an act of violence and control; the perceived 'attractiveness' of a victim has very little to do with it. There is no excuse or mitigation for sexual violence and it is never the victim/survivor's fault. What someone was wearing when they were raped or how they behave is irrelevant.
Myth: Women/girls should not complain of rape when they ‘throw themselves’ at their professors/ people in power.
Fact: A University is a hierarchical place of steep power-structures. Those holding positions of influence and prestige, like lecturers and professors, senior staff, laboratory leaders, club and society committee members, etc. hold undue influence over students and junior members of staff. It is the person with powers responsibility to set clear boundaries and not abuse or groom impressionable students or junior members of staff. Sexual misconduct is always about power and control rather than sexual attraction.
Myth: LGBT+ people experience less sexual violence than the general population.
Fact: LGBT+ people experience similar or higher levels of sexual violence.
Myth: Lesbian women/ Gay men in same sex relationships do not experience sexual violence.
Fact: Everyone can experience sexual violence, regardless of their gender identity or sexuality.
Myth: Physiological arousal/ erection/getting wet means you consented to the sexual act.
Fact: A physiological response often results from mere physical contact or extreme stress. This does not imply that you wanted or enjoyed the experience. Many abusers use the trope of physical arousal to groom/ manipulate their victims to believe that they somehow liked the entire abuse experience, which further discourages people to reach out. A person can have any of the Five F’s (Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flop, Friend) in response to an act of sexual violence, and physiological responses do not in any way convey anything about consenting to the act.
Myth: Violence in a same-sex relationship is often mutual because the partners have equal power.
Fact: Abusers do not rely exclusively on physical strength, or gendered expectations. Some abusers use the trope ‘violence is always mutual’ to silence their victims. Even outing a partner to their friends and family when their partner is not ready is a form of violence or could be used as a coercive control over them.
Myth: My partner demands details of my social and financial interactions only because they love me and are very possessive.
Fact: Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten someone. This is a form of domestic violence. This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour. One does not have to be married or co-habiting to suffer these. It can happen in any relationship, in or outside a university or your home. You do not have to be living with your partner to experience coercive control.
* Credits to Rape Crisis England and Wales and Survivors UK for some of the information contained in this article.