We hear of sexual assault scandals and historic abuse cases so often that our society has almost become numb to them, especially after the ‘Me Too’ movement in 2017. While it is an issue that is talked of more openly and often now, there are still a great deal of misconceptions that come with sexual assault which can be dangerous to victims, especially by furthering their natural feelings of doubt, shame, embarrassment, and guilt. It is important to educate and debunk the myths around sexual assault in order to better the path towards justice for the exorbitantly high number of people who have experienced it.
For reference, this data and facts come from reported cases, which are unfortunately uncommon, because the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Today, only 230 out of 1,000 rapes are reported, meaning less than 1 out of 4. In turn, statistically 4.6 out of 1,000 rapists will end up in jail, which is in part due to the misconceptions involving rape victims and other assault survivors. Here are a few common myths and the truth behind them:
Most Assaults are Committed by a Stranger
Not all victims came to meet their assaulter in a dark alley in the late hours of the night; in fact, that is likely not the case at all. On college campuses, roughly 8 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by an ex-boyfriend, classmate, friend, acquaintance or coworker who has already established a relationship and trust with the victim. Furthermore, in the UK, a study found that only 10% of perpetrators did not previously know their victims, while in 56% of cases it was the victim’s partner, and for the remaining 33% it was a friend, acquaintance, or other family member.
Misremembering and/or Contradicting Details Means the Person is not being Truthful
Many assault survivors often claim to have vivid memories of certain images, sounds or smells associated with the attack, even years following. However, when asked what one would consider ‘easier’ questions, such as the time of day, where they were, and who they were with, the victims seems to forget. This could lead to contradictions or struggles in a case, which often undermines a person’s testimony.
These gaps in memories are due to the difference in how we perceive everyday memories to how we perceive traumatic ones. According to BBC news, the high level of stress hormones active in our bodies during a traumatic event causes us to focus on the fight, flight, or freeze type triggers rather than the mundane details. This process which causes disassociation is hurtful to the process of obtaining justice when a crime is reported, and those who have higher levels of memory fragmentation do not feel they have given a coherent account of what has happened, which in turns causes them to be less likely to proceed with a legal case. The idea that a person who survived an assault may be untruthful due to their lack of consistency is not true, and due to the high levels of trauma they experienced.
People lie out of Revenge or Regret
All reported sexual assaults are true, with extremely few exceptions. According to FBI crime statistics, only 2% of reported rapes are false, which is the same rate of false reports as other major crimes. Furthermore, rape is the least reported violent crime in the United states for various reasons, one being the concern for not believed, along with embarrassment, shame, and fear of being blamed. It is extremely unlikely anyone would falsely report an assault due to the discrepancies in the justice system and the emotional turmoil these cases and trials cause. Therefore, minimizing victim’s cause for reporting as untrue or out of spite is dangerous to the fight for justice for those who have experienced sexual assault.
How to Help
Having open conversations about the myths regarding sexual assault and educating yourself and others on the facts surrounding this issue is a positive first step in doing so. Furthermore, if you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted, sharing these resources could be more helpful than you think:
Patricia Cox is a recent college graduate who studied the historic and present day injustices women face through her Political Science major. She took courses in specific areas such as South Asia, Eastern Asia, and the United States. Patricia decided to write for Soroptimist in order to educate others on present day issues that directly affect women all around the world. She believes that the fight for female equality can be taken a step further if a light is shed on the hardships women face everyday, and writing for this blog is the perfect opportunity to do so.