Counseling Services

Myths & Misconceptions About Sexual Assault

The more we learn about sexual assault, the more we realize how many of our attitudes about sexual assault are based on myths rather than facts. Myths about rape are widespread and are believed by men and women from all segments of society.

Myths about sexual assault serve to direct attention away from violence. They are similar to myths about other forms of oppression, such as racism, in that they encourage us to believe that how things are today is the natural order of things, that those who are assaulted either deserved their fate or enjoyed their fate, and that only certain types of people get sexually assaulted.  The myths allow people to believe the issue does not concern them. The myths serve to minimize the seriousness of sexual assault and, by focusing on particular people in particular circumstances, to shift the blame away from those who commit the crime. Blame is focused on the behavior of those who were assaulted or on particular men, targeted often because of their race or social class.

Myths keep us from understanding that sexual assault is connected to our accepted social values of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality-that assault is common in everyday interactions.

Myth: Only certain types of women get sexually assaulted. It could never happen to me.

Fact: Both men and women can be sexually assaulted. It is not dependent on race, class, or gender.  

Myth: Sexual assault is the result of sexual arousal or sex deprivation.  

Fact: Sexual assault occurs as an attempt to exert control and confirm power.

Myth: Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers at night in dark alleys.

Fact: Most assaults are committed by someone the person knows and occur at any time of the day or night. Sexual assault occurs most frequently in a familiar place.

Myth: Sexual assault committed by an acquaintance is not as serious as assault committed by a stranger.

Fact: Acquaintance sexual assault is as serious as sexual assault by a stranger and the emotional consequences for the victim can be just as difficult to cope with.  

Sexual assault is provoked by flirting and style of dress.

Fact: Sexual assault occurs because of power and control issues.  Dress and behavior are not the cause.

Myth: Men can never be raped or sexually assaulted.   

Fact: Men can be and are sexually assaulted.  

Myth: Women do not rape or commit sexual assault.

Fact: Women can be sexual aggressors.  

Myth: If a person is not a virgin then they can not be raped.

Fact: A person's sexual history has nothing to do with a case of rape. A person could even have had sex with the attacker at an earlier time and can still be raped by them.

Myth: People who do not actually physically fight back have not been sexually assaulted.

Fact: A person may not fight back for any number of reasons, but not fighting back does not equal consent, and sexual assault has still occurred.

Myth: When a man becomes sexually aroused, the only way to deal with it is to have sex.

Fact: Just because a man has an erection does not mean that he has to put it somewhere. There are no physical consequences if a man doesn't have sex when he is aroused.

Myth: When someone says "no," s/he might really mean "maybe."

Fact: Although mixed messages can be given, when someone says no s/he means no. Never assume that no means anything else but no.  If there is any doubt, ask the partner.

Myth: Making out with someone, even in a bedroom, means that both people want to have sex.

Fact: Just because people make out, even on a bed, does not mean intercourse is going to happen.  People can want to "fool around," without wanting to actually have intercourse.

Myth: If someone has passed out because of excessive alcohol, it is okay to engage in sexual activity with that person.

Fact: If someone is unconscious, s/he is unable to give you consent and therefore it would be sexual assault.

Myth: If the aggressor is drunk at the time of the assault, then s/he cannot be accused of sexual assault.

Fact: The aggressor is responsible for his or her actions no matter how intoxicated. Being drunk is not an excuse to force sexual activity on someone against his or her will.

Gillian Greensite []
Men Against Sexual Assault at the University of Rochester