Breaking the myths around sexual abuse

There are common myths about sexual violence that can cause shame, guilt, and self-blame. Myths are problematic because they present a distorted view of the realities of sexual violence. We want to dispel these myths, and help victims and survivors get the support they need.

Here are a few examples of common sexual violence myths (based on material from Rape Crisis England and Wales).

Click on a myth to reveal the truth.

Myth: If someone is drunk, it is their own fault if they are raped. They should have kept themselves safe.

Facts: People have the right to drink alcohol without being assaulted. If a person is unconscious or incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, they are unable to give their consent to sex. Having sex with someone who is very drunk, drugged or unconscious is rape – and it is always the rapist’s fault.

Myth: It is only rape if someone is physically forced into sex and has the injuries to show for it. If someone did not scream, or try to fight their attacker off, then it was not rape.

Facts: Sometimes people who are raped sustain internal and/or external injuries and sometimes they do not. Sex without consent is rape. Just because someone does not have visible injuries or did not scream or fight, does not mean they were not raped. There are many reasons why someone might not scream or struggle. In fact, many people find that they cannot move or speak at all from fear and shock.

Myth: If you are in a relationship with someone, it is always okay to have sex with them.

Facts: 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 freely every time. Rape and sexual violence even in a relationship is illegal.

Myth: People who were sexually abused as children are likely to become abusers themselves.

Facts: People use this myth 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. There is never any excuse for sexual violence against children or adults.

Myth: Women should not go out alone at night as they are likely to get raped.

Facts: Only around 10% of rapes are committed by 'strangers'. Around 90% of rapes are committed by someone the survivor knows - such as friends, colleagues, clients, neighbours, family members, partners or exes. People are raped in their homes, their workplaces and other settings where they have previously felt safe.

Myth: People often lie about being raped because they regret having sex with someone or do it out of spite or for attention.

Facts: False allegations of rape are very rare. Most survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason for this is the fear of not being believed.

Myth: Only young 'attractive' women and girls who flirt and wear 'revealing' clothes are raped.

Facts: It does not matter what a woman is wearing, or how she is behaving; if she does not consent to sex, that is rape. Only the rapist is ever responsible for rape. People of all ages and appearances, and of all classes, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, races and religions, are raped.

Myth: When it comes to sex, women and girls give out mixed signals. They sometimes 'play hard to get' and say 'no' when they really mean 'yes'.

Facts: 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 does not stop, they are committing sexual assault or rape.

Myth: Alcohol, drugs, stress or depression can turn people into rapists.

Facts: Drugs and alcohol are never the cause of rape or sexual assault. It is the attacker who is committing the crime, not the drugs or alcohol. Likewise, stress and depression do not turn people into rapists or justify sexual violence.

Myth: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to commit sexual violence.

Facts: There is no typical rapist. People who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group.

Myth: Men do not get raped and women do not commit sexual offences.

Facts: Men are also raped and sexually assaulted. Often, people who have 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.

Myth: Sexual assault is an act of lust and passion that cannot be controlled.

Facts: Sexual assault is about power and control and is not motivated by sexual gratification.

Myth: Being sexually assaulted by someone of the same gender can make a person gay or lesbian.

Facts: The assault is typically not based on the sexual preferences of the victim or rapist, and therefore does not change the victim’s sexual orientation.

Myth: People with disabilities are at low risk of sexual assault.

Facts: People with disabilities are victims of sexual assault twice as much as people without disabilities.

Myth: If you did not report the sexual abuse immediately, it did not happen.

Facts: There may be many reasons why a person does not report. They might feel ashamed that the abuse has happened. They may be worried they will not be believed or that there may be repercussions to reporting. If they have not reported immediately, or at all, it does not mean it has not happened or that they cannot report in the future.