Rape: Myths and Facts


Rape only happens to young sexy women

Rape happens to men and women of any age, from infant to elderly. Like with any other crime, prime targets are those who appear vulnerable and accessible: incarcerated, financially dependent, mentally ill, drunk, too young to understand what's happening, handicapped. The highest risk groups are prison inmates, senior home residents, and deaf children - because they are the least likely to resist, run away, or complain after the fact.

Most rapists are strangers to the victim

It's comforting to think that you loved ones would never rape you, but 86% of rapes are done by someone known to the victim: an ex-partner, friend, step-parent, co-worker, coach, priest, home aid, babysitter. It makes sense: a stranger has no idea who you are and how much resistance they can expect from you; you could be a karate expert for all they know. It's a lot easier for a rapist to take advantage of you if they know your strengths and vulnerabilities.

Rape is caused by uncontrollable sexual urges

Healthy adults experience sexual arousal multiple times a day, yet don't end up raping anyone each time it happens. There are plenty of other ways to cope with arousal. Rape is about violating other people, not about feeling horny.

Arousal means consent

Sexual arousal is a parasympathetic reflex of the ANS (autonomic nervous system), i.e. a healthy physiological response of your body. It originates in your spinal cord, not in your brain, and you have no control over it. Other examples of autonomic reflexes are: sneezing, coughing, blinking, swallowing, bladder control. Your body does these things on its own, without your awareness or effort, and you can't make it stop. Experiencing arousal does not mean you enjoy what's happening.

Having been raped makes me gay/lesbian

Sex is something that you choose to do because you enjoy it. Rape is something that's done to you against your will, and has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, preferences, likes, or dislikes. Having been physically assaulted doesn't make you a masochist. Having been robbed doesn't make you a benefactor. Having been raped doesn't make you gay.

Some people fantasize about getting raped

There's a big difference between fantasy and reality. Many people fantasize about buying an island in Hawaii and living off-grid - that doesn't make it OK to kidnap them and drop them off in the middle of nowhere, to fulfill their fantasy against their will. Rape is nonconsensual intercourse, the victim doesn't want to engage in it, by definition.

Rape always involves physical force and the victim will be bruised

Rape usually involves threats (or blackmail), but rarely actual force. If someone pulls a gun on you and tells you to get down on your knees or else - you won't receive bruises, but it would still be rape. It's equally pointless to fight against someone twice your size, in a position of power (like a prison guard), or someone who threatens to hurt your children. Besides, a lot of rapes happen to vulnerable people: children, elderly, disabled, unconscious - those who can't fight and might even not be fully understanding what's happening.

Fighting back makes violence worse.

It depends on circumstances. If the rapist sees that you're fighting for your life (biting, kicking, screaming, etc), they're forced to make a choice: either walk away or fight you. Sometimes they might just give up, walk away, and find another victim - fighting you just isn't worth the hassle even if they are much stronger physically. Other times the rapist won't give up, and then the only thing you'll accomplish by trying to resist is more violence. You just need to play it by the ear. Either way, you need to at least say that you do not agree to have sex, otherwise they might genuinely believe that you're participating willingly, and so might law enforcement.

You have to believe the victim's story

Her story is that she feels hurt by the experience. This is what you have to believe, because she's the only one who knows how she feels. Whether he is a rapist or not is not her story, it's her opinion on legal matters. Sex is a tricky issue, consent is a spectrum, and it's possible to be hurt by an encounter that does not fit the legal definition of rape. Her story is that she was hurt; whether what happened to her was rape is for the jury to decide.

If I didn't want it - I was raped

If you were forced against your will or if you were in no position to make the choice (e.g. under general anesthesia) - yes, you were raped. If you didn't want it, but went along, didn't say anything - it was an unfortunate miscommunication, not a violent felony. You deserve compassion and support regardless, but the other person shouldn't go to prison for sheer inability to read your mind; you have to tell them if you aren't in the mood.

Women often lie about having been raped

Some women use the term "rape" and "rapist" rather loosely. However, those are a minority. 63% of women who believe they were raped never file a police report; they seek medical help, get therapy for the aftermath of the trauma, but refuse to involve the police because it's traumatic to have such a personal and painful experience dragged out and examined in public. It takes a lot of strength and courage to report the rape to authorities.

Victim was asking for it somehow

It's possible that the victim has made some bad choices. However, rape is a violent felony, not an OK thing to do, no matter how the victim acted. For example, if I pick a fight with some drunk sailors and they break my nose - they'll still get arrested for physical assault, even though picking fights with them was a stupid choice.

Reporting is traumatic and pointless

Rape is a traumatic experience, so anything to do with it can be traumatic as well: reporting, not reporting, getting therapy, keeping it a secret, or disclosing to friends and family. It's true that majority of reports do not result in a conviction - partly because many victims do not report till days, weeks, or even months later, when there's no evidence left and guilt can't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Read about reporting rape, the more prepared you are the less traumatic it will be.

It's not rape if we had consensual sex before

If I lend you money before - that doesn't mean you can steal my wallet. Consent refers to each separate encounter. For example, marriage means you plan to have sex on regular basis, in general, but you can refuse sex specifically tonight, and if you said "no" your partner has to respect it.

Women don't rape

This myth is based on the fact that most of rape convicts are male. However, that's because up till 2010 rape was legally defined as "the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." Of course we end up with predominantly male convicts. When CDC added “being made to penetrate" to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010, the male to female ratio was pretty much equal.

Prostitutes can't be raped

This is like saying that banks can't be robbed. Prostitution means that I voluntarily choose to offer sex in exchange for cash, and I'm free to refund the money and refuse the services. When someone comes and takes what I sell by force and without payment - that's a crime.

If the victim was drunk - it's rape

Rape is nonconsensual intercourse, so if the victim was so drunk they couldn't communicate consent or lack of it - yes, it was rape. On the other hand, if they were still walking and talking coherently - what matters is what they said, not whether they've been drinking. Many people like to have sex while drunk, that's not a crime.

If the alleged perpetrator was drunk - it's not rape

Rape is a violent felony, no matter if the alleged perpetrator was drunk, sober, depressed, or fidgety. You wouldn't use being drunk as a defense for an armed robbery.

It's not rape if I changed my mind in the middle of the act

Consent can be revoked at any point before or during the intercourse, but you need to clearly say so. If you said "stop," and the other person ignored it, it was rape. It might be hard to prosecute though, unless you fought back and sustained injuries.

If I were raped, my life is ruined forever

Rape is a serious psychological trauma, often with lasting consequences, but people recover from it. There are plenty of rape survivors leading successful and fairly happy lives. If you want reassurance, you can google lists of celebrities who were raped.

Sometimes no means yes, when you're flirting

Sometimes it does, and other times it doesn't. If you chance it and your guess turns out to be wrong, you'll go to prison and be a registered sex offender for life. Play it safe: clarify what the person means, use safe words if yes/no is a part of their fantasy roleplay, or just walk away and find someone who can talk straight. It's not worth it.