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MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT

Myths and misconceptions about sexual assault have a devastating effect on our community. Because myths shift blame for rape from the rapist to the victim, many survivors never report the crime against them. Partly because of this and partly because myths affect juries’ deliberations, more than 97% of rape victims will never see their attacker arrested, convicted and sent to jail, according to a U. S. Senate Judiciary report.1 Since sexual assailants average 8 – 12 victims each, that leaves all of us vulnerable.2

It’s important that we face the facts.

MYTH: Sexual assault isn’t a problem in our community.
FACT: Unfortunately it is. More than 12,000 adult women in Jackson County are survivors of forcible rape according to Rape in Oregon:  A Report to the State (2003).3 The authors warn that their figures are “almost certainly an underestimate of Oregon’s rape problem,” let alone its problem with sexual violence more generally, since the statistics do not include female children and adolescents, male victims, drug or alcohol-facilitated rapes, or other kinds of traumatic sexual assaults. 

The Jackson County SART has cared for women, children and men from all income levels and ethnic groups.  They have ranged in age from 16 months old to 92.

Sexual assault is so common in our society (as well as so little recognized) that the American Medical Association calls it “America’s silent, violent epidemic.”4 It is commonly estimated that one in every four women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime.5 So will many men.

MYTH:  To stay safe avoid strangers and dark, remote places.
FACT:  Studies show that 7 in 10 women who reported being raped or sexually assaulted knew their attackers.6 More than half these crimes took place in the survivor’s home or at the home of a friend, relative or neighbor.7

MYTH: Many rapes are impulsive, as when a man gets led on by short skirts or teasing behavior.
FACT: Most rapes are planned in advance.8 Interviews with convicted rapists reveal that victims are chosen for their vulnerability, not for the way they dress. 89% of the rapists describe their victims as not “sexy” at all: “The victims did not verbally provoke nor were sexually attractive to the attacker.”9 This underscores the fact that rape is about power, not sex.

Rapists are skilled at gaining victims’ trust and maneuvering them into vulnerable positions. They also work to set up an alibi in advance.  So “Come in while I get my coat” translates in court to “I invited her in and she came in willingly; she knew exactly what would happen.”

MYTH:  A person who’s raped while drunk or stoned was asking for it.
FACT:  No one “asks” to be raped, just as no one asks to be murdered or robbed.  It may show poor judgment to leave a window unlocked, but the break-in is still illegal.  We don’t let the burglar go free.

Under Oregon law, having sex with someone who’s incapacitated by alcohol or drugs is not an opportunity — it’s a crime.

MYTH:  If a person doesn’t fight back, it isn’t rape.
FACT:  Survivors of sexual violence are just that:  survivors. They do whatever they feel at the time will help keep them alive. Not fighting back may be a conscious choice to try and avoid death or severe injury.  It may also result from being immobilized by “date rape drugs” or by the shock of being attacked. When a victim knows the attacker, as most do, the shock of seeing an acquaintance turn into a predator can be quite literally stunning.

MYTH:  Women often falsely accuse men of sexual assault.
FACT:  The Portland police have found that more people falsely report that their car has been stolen (2.6%) than falsely report they’ve been raped (1.6%).10  In fact most survivors of sexual violence, often fearing they won’t be believed, don’t report this crime at all.  In Oregon, an estimated 90% of female survivors never report their attack to police.11

MYTH:   Men who rape other men are gay.
FACT:  Almost all men who sexually assault other men (and boys) are heterosexual.  Anger and a need for power rather than sexual orientation drive these assaults, just as they do assaults on women. In fact, it’s often a fear of homosexuality that fuels some straight men’s attacks on gay men.

By the time they are 18, almost as many boys as girls will have been sexually assaulted.  It can be particularly difficult for men to admit to being assaulted, since the myth that “real men” don’t get raped leads straight men to fear they’ll be labeled as gay.
 
MYTH:  It’s just sex.  People get over it.
FACT:  Rape isn’t about sex. It’s about using sex as a weapon to humiliate and control someone, and the consequences can be severe. The AMA finds that 80% of rape survivors suffer ongoing physical or psychological problems after their attack, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).12  They are also six times more likely to attempt suicide than are survivors of other crimes.13  The trauma is just as severe, sometimes more so, for survivors who know the person who raped them.
     Fortunately family, friends and community members who believe sexual assault survivors and who support them can help them heal.


1 The Response to Rape:  Detours on the Road to Equal Justice.  Report to U. S. Congress, 1993.

2 U. S. Department of Justice figures.

3 Dean Kilpatrick and Kenneth Ruggiero. National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center. Charleston, SC, May 2003, p. 11.

4 Press Release: “Sexual Assault in America,” American Medical Association, Chicago, IL, November 6, 1995.

5 As the Kilpatrick and Ruggiero study notes above, accurate statistics about sexual assault rates are difficult to obtain. This is in part because of low reporting rates and in part because of studies’ differing methodologies and definitions of terms: whether statistics come from police reports or interviews, for example, and whether these interviews are done in person and in private or by phone.

Generally accepted numbers for sexual assault survivors nationwide are one in four women and one in six men. However several studies put the number for women at one in three; and a 1990 study by David Finkelhor, “Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women,” finds that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. For studies confirming Finkelhor’s findings, see J. Hopper, “Child Abuse Statistics, Research and Resources” (1997), available at www.jimhopper.com.

6 “Criminal Victimization in 1999.” U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 2000.

7 L. Greenfield.  “Sex Offenses and Offenders:  An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault.”  U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.

8 At least 71%, according to Rape in America:  A report to the nation.  National Victim Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.  Charleston, SC:  University of South Carolina, 1992.

9 “Patterns of Behavior in Adolescent Rape,” by Vinogradov, et  al. in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 58(2) April 1988 pp 179-87.

10 Portland Police Bureau, Planning and Support Division; Law Enforcement Data System [LEDS]. The Police Bureau findings were cited in an interview in The Oregonian, Sunday, December 4, 2005.

11 “SART Handbook I,” Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Response Team Task Force, November 2002.

12 “Strategies for the treatment and prevention of sexual assault” (1995).  Available at www.ama-assn.org.  “Populations Reports:  Ending Violence Against Women” puts PTSD rate among survivors at “at least 50%.”  Populations Programs Information Program, Center for Communication Programs.  The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. December 1999.

13 Kilpatrick et. al.  Rape in America:  A report to the nation.