Myths & Facts

Myths & Facts

In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice [MoJ], Office for National Statistics [ONS] and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

The report estimated that:

  • 52,000 women are raped [plus 17,000 attempts] on average in England and Wales every year
  • 6,000 men are raped [plus 3,000 attempts] on average in England and Wales every year
  • Over 400,000 women and over 72,000 men are sexually assaulted each year
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men [aged 16 – 59] has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

When you look at these statistics, you need to remember that the statistics are based on incidents reported to their survey and the overall figures are estimates.

It is widely believed that there is a lower reporting rate for rape and sexual assault tan is the actual case. Men in particular report less frequently because of the social stigma and myths and stereotypes about masculinity that are prevalent in society. Recently because of more media coverage, there has been a slow increase in reports to rape crisis centres and police by male victims.

Let’s look at the common myths about rape and sexual assaults. Many have been created by the media: Some through ignorance; some through the sensationalising of the subject.


Myth – He or she has made it all up
For anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, the decision on whether or not to report it to the police can be a difficult one. At present, it’s estimated that only 15% of women who are raped or sexually assaulted report it to the police. One significant reason many victims [men and women] tell us they don’t go to the police is because of their fear of not being believed. Unfortunately, the media focus on the very small number of cases each year that involve a so-called false allegation of sexual violence. This perpetuates the public perception that malicious false reporting is common. In fact, it is this perception that is entirely false. For many years, studies have suggested that false reporting rates for rape are no different from false reporting rates for any other crime, that is, about 4%. In March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are “very rare” and suggesting they could make up less than 1% of all reports. Read more here.
Myth – Prostitutes cannot be raped or sexually assaulted
Prostitutes have the same rights to consent as anyone else; the transactions they negotiate with clients are for consensual activities. Any sexual activity not consented to by anyone is sexual assault or rape.
Myth – Most perpetrators are strangers
The truth is that 90% of cases involve someone known to the victim. Men and women are more often raped in their homes, within their families and in their workplaces than down a dark alley. This helps to explain a low reporting rate.
Myth – Everyone knows that when a woman says no, she really means yes
Rape is a terrifying, violent and humiliating experience that no woman wants or asks for. Legally a person has the right to change their mind about having sex at any point of sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at the time a person says no, this is sexual assault and depending on the circumstances it may be rape. If a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with a person before, this does not mean that they cannot be assaulted by that person. Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape.
Myth – If they didn’t scream, fight or get injured, it wasn’t rape
Non-consensual sex doesn’t always leave visible signs on the body or the genitals, and the victim’s perception of threat, as well as other influences, affect their behaviour and actions. Victims in rape and sexual assault situations often become physically paralysed with terror or shock and are unable to put up a struggle or run away; this can be explained by the “fight or flight mechanism” within the brain. When under threat of rape and the legitimate belief that they may be killed or seriously injured, co-operation saves their life.
Myth – a) Men and boys can’t be victims and therefore….
b) Men and boys sexually assaulted by males are either homosexual or bi-sexual
Just as with women, men under threat of rape and the legitimate belief that they may be killed or seriously injured, co-operation saves their life. Rape and sexual assault is all about power and control. The perpetrator uses power and control to assault the victim. Men learn early in life that they should be able to protect themselves.

For boys and men too, the “fight or flight mechanism” comes into operation.

Many boys who have been sexually abused by males believe that something about them was sexually attractive to men, and that this means that they are homosexual or effeminate. This is not true. Men who rape boys and other men are often heterosexual, and men and boys of all sexual orientations get raped.

The thought that only homosexual men and boys can be raped only by other homosexual boys or men creates the illusion of safety for heterosexual men, re-traumatises and stigmatises male survivors. This helps to explain the low reporting levels of men and boys.

Myth – If a man or boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm during the assault, this means he was a willing participant and enjoyed it
In reality, men and boys can get an erection even in a traumatic or painful situation. Therapists who work with sex offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain their secrecy is to label the child’s sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. They will say “You liked it; you wanted it”. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal whilst being raped, but physical [and visual or auditory] stimulation may well happen even under duress. It does not mean that the child or man wanted the experience or even understood what it meant at the time.
Myth – Sexually abused children will grow up to abuse their own children or other children
This is a very damaging myth and the facts do not support it at all. Some people who abuse children were abused themselves as children, but not all victims of abuse become abusers. Studies among convicted sexual offenders indicate that only one-in-eight were sexually abused as children themselves. This means that seven out of eight were not.
Myth – The victim…

  • was drunk, took drugs or had a bad reputation [They were asking for it]
  • wore tight clothes or seduced him or “led him on” [They were asking for it]
Consent is a key part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and Sections 75 and 76 cover the presumptions the law makes regarding consent. Sex offenders use a variety of excuses to attempt to discredit the women they assault and to justify their crime – claiming that the victim actually consented to sex.

If a person is unconscious or their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, it is legally considered that consent could not be given. Both parties have to be fully aware of what is happening. The moment one says no, if the other person is continuing, then they are sexually assaulting the person saying no.

Wearing so-called tight [or suggestive] clothing, doesn’t mean that a person is consenting to have sex, and it is certainly not and invitation to rape.

Men, women, boys and girls of all ages, classes, culture, ability, sexuality, race and faith are raped. Attractiveness has no particular significance.

Myth – Once a man is sexually aroused he cannot stop. He has to have sex
Studies show that most rapes are premeditated, that is they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. Men can quite easily control their urges to have sex – they do not need to rape a man/woman to satisfy themselves.
Myth – Women cannot rape other women
Under Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, only a man can commit the offence of Rape as the penetration has to be with a penis.

Under Section 2 of the same act, it states that if the penetration is with something other than a penis, then the offence is assault by penetration.

Although the Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines the offence differently, they are considered equal in severity and they both have a potential sentence of imprisonment for life for the perpetrator if found guilty by jury in court.

Often when women are assaulted by other women they fear they will not be believed. It is important to know that women who are assaulted by other women are able to access support and will be believed.