Barely a week goes by now without another case of rape or historic sex abuse being splashed across the news and picked over by critics. Yet misunderstanding about the nature of sexual violence leads to distorted opinions, which can further enhance victims’ feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame. Common myths about rape and sexual assault also undermine jurors’ ability to objectively assess the facts when such cases come to court.
Here are five common myths and the facts behind them.
1. Most sexual assaults are committed by a stranger
The narrative of a woman being sexually assaulted while walking down a dark alleyway may still play out on many TV screens. But in the real world, rape and serious sexual assault is far more likely to occur in the home and at the hands of someone familiar. In England, Wales and Australia, around one in five women have experienced sexual violence at least once during their lifetime; the US’s national sexual violence survey similarly estimated that one in five women, along with one in 71 men, have been raped.
But in the UK, for example, a separate report found that the perpetrator was a stranger in only 10% of rape and serious sexual assaults, 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.
2. A ‘real’ sexual assault survivor always reports immediately
According to UK Home Office data, 46% of recorded rapes were reported on the day they took place – while 14% of people took more than six months to report that they’d been assaulted. If the victim was a child, they were even more likely to delay coming forward: just 28% of those aged under 16 reported the offence on the day it happened, while a third waited for longer than six months.
That is just for assaults that ultimately are reported. Many others are not. In the US, for example, studies have estimated that two out of three sexual assaults never are reported.
There is no evidence that suggests the timing of which you report is linked to the genuineness of the report – Nicole Westmarland
There are many reasons why some people either delay reporting or never do, as testified to by the “#WhyIDidn’tReport” hashtag on Twitter. “A lot of people don’t report because they don’t want the perpetrator to go to prison: maybe they’re in love with them, or it’s a family member, or it’s a partner and are reliant on their income,” says Nicole Westmarland, director of Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse in the UK. “Another common reason I hear from students is that they don’t want to ruin the rest of the person’s life.”
Even so, “there is no evidence that suggests the timing of which you report is linked to the genuineness of the report,” she says.
– Linda Geddes
Read More: 5 Myths About Sexual Assault
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