Helpline: 01392 204 174

'I Just Froze'

'So Many Reasons'

Rape is a subject which most people find uncomfortable. For women it conjures up all kinds of images. Some of us will think of dirty old men in rain macs, or a monster too gross to think about. Others will have more specific ideas about rape, perhaps thinking about a certain group of men such as 'weirdos' in dark alleys.

Rape and sexual assault happen far more often than statistics indicate

The majority of women in society fear rape - no woman is allowed to ignore it. The majority of children are taught to be afraid of 'strange men' who offer us sweets, lifts, etc. We are taught as adults to keep our doors locked, not to be alone, not to look or act in any way that might 'bring rape upon ourselves'. Perhaps the most obvious situation in which we are taught to be afraid is when walking home alone at night. The threat of violence is a total intrusion into women's personal space and transforms a routine and / or potential pleasurable activity (for example, a walk in the park, a quiet evening at home, a long train journey) into a potentially upsetting, disturbing and often threatening experience.

Rape myths give people a false sense of security by minimising and / or denying the occurrence of sexual violence. They accomplish this by blaming the victim and making excuses for the perpetrator. In effect these myths perpetuate sexual violence because they play a powerful part in defining responses to rape and create an excuse not to address the realities of sexual violence.

It's much more common than people think...

  • Around 21% of girls and 11% of boys experience some form of child sexual abuse
  • 23% of women and 3% of men experience sexual assault as an adult
  • 5% of women and 0.4% of men experience rape

Source: Home Office Cross Government Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Abuse

It represents a form of gender inequality...

Most perpetrators are male and most victims are female. It is both a consequence and cause of gender inequality.

It causes fear in communities...

Women are more worried about rape than any other crime.

It can cause severe and long lasting harm to victims...

Direct physical health consequences of sexual violence and child sexual abuse include physical injury, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. Long-term consequences of sexual violence and child sexual abuse include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, social phobia, substance abuse, obesity, eating disorders, self harm and suicide, domestic violence and in some cases, offending behaviour. Child abuse can also impact on educational attainment and school attendance.

...and to society...

The overall cost to society of sexual offences in 2003-04 was estimated at £8.5 billion, with each rape costing over £76,000. Much of this cost is made up of lost output and costs to the health service resulting from long term health issues faced by victims.

Victims don't always get the support they need...

40% of adults who are raped tell no one about it. 31% of children who are abused reach adulthood without having disclosed their abuse. This means that victims don't get the support they need to deal with the abuse or violence they have experienced.

It is an important and dangerous element of domestic violence...

Many people believe that adult sexual violence and child sexual abuse is normally committed by a stranger. In fact, perpetrators are normally known to the victim and many are partners or family members. Rape is associated with the most severe cases of domestic violence, and is a risk factor for domestic homicide.

Offenders have been getting away with it....

Only 15% of serious sexual offences against people 16 and over are reported to the police and of the rape offences that are reported, fewer than 6% result in an offender being convicted of this offence. This means that those who commit these very serious crimes may continue to pose a risk to the public.


Here are some of the most common myths that surround rape and sexual assault

Myth: Do not go out alone at any time. Women are most likely to be raped outside, in dark alleyways late at night. This is the best way for a woman to protect herself.
Reality: The suggestion of avoiding walking alone, especially at night is a common suggestion to avoiding sexual assault. However, only 9% of rapes are committed by 'strangers'. Women are raped in their homes and in their work places where they are less likely to be believed and even less likely to report. This myth can control movements and restricts freedom. This can feel like women are living under a 'curfew' and that it is a woman's responsibility to be either in or out at certain times. More than 80% of rapes are committed by known men.

Myth: Women who are sexually assaulted 'ask for it' by the way they dress or act, rape only happens to young women.
Reality: Many women are led to believe that if they are not part of a certain category of women then they are 'safe' from being raped. Women and girls of all ages, classes, culture, ability, sexuality, race and faith are raped. Attractiveness has little significance. Reports show that there is a great diversity in the way targeted women act or dress. Rapists choose women based on their vulnerability not their physical appearance.

Sometimes women see themselves as 'unworthy' or 'undesirable' because of their age or physical appearance and therefore 'safe' from rape. Some men joke or make comments about women's appearances or age to indicate whether she is sexually desirable or available, or as part of their defence in court, saying he thought 'he was doing her a favour', using her appearance or age. Women are raped from the age of three to ninety three. Rape is an act of violence not sex.

Myth: Everyone knows when a woman says no, she often means yes. Women secretly want to be raped.
Reality: 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. 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. Sex without consent is rape.

Myth: The women was drunk / took drugs / had a bad reputation / was taking lifts / wore tight clothes / seduced him / probably got what she was asking for.
Reality: If a person is unconscious or their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give consent. Having non-consensual sex with a person who is intoxicated is sexual assault.

Rapists use a variety of excuses to attempt to discredit the women they rape and to justify their crime. No woman asks or deserves to be rape or sexually assaulted. Often a rape case is defined more by the woman's character than by what has happened to her. Newspapers and mass media often refer to women in the roles that they have within society - 'young mother', 'grandmother', 'doctor's wife' etc. If the woman's role or social position is not seen as socially acceptable, she is often held responsible not the rapist. For example, the original 'Jack the Ripper' and Sutcliffe in the late 70s and 80s were glorified by the press. (Jack the ripper has his books, museum, cocktails, computer games and even tourist walks in London named after him where you can visit the places women were murdered!)

The rules imposed on women's behaviour allow rapists to shift the responsibility for rape onto women wherever possible, so that most of the perpetrators who rape are seen as victims of malicious allegations, carelessness or stupidity. There is no other crime in which so much effort is expended to make the victim appear responsible - imagine the character or financial background of a robbery victim being questioned in court.

Myth: Women eventually relax and enjoy it. They secretly want to be raped.
Reality: There is a widely held belief that women enjoy rape or that it is 'just sex at the wrong time, in the wrong place'. Rape is a crime of sexual violence and humiliation which can involve being beaten, physical restraint and use of weapons, urination and defecating. Studies have consistently shown that most rapes involve physical force to some degree. Often when a woman is raped she is afraid that she will be killed - rapists often use the threat of killing a woman or her children to ensure her 'submission' and her silence after the attack. Women do not enjoy sexual violence. Victims of murder, robbery and other crimes are never portrayed as enjoying the experience.

Myth: The woman did not get hurt or fight back. It could not have been rape.
Reality: Men who rape or sexually assault women and girls will often use weapons or threats of violence to intimidate women. The fact that there is no visible evidence of violence does not mean that a woman has not been raped.

Another myth that goes hand in hand with this is that 'rape is a fate worse than death' and this links with the belief that women should fight and resist throughout. Faced with the reality of rape, women make second by second decisions, all of which are directed at minimising the harm done to them. At the point where initial resistance, struggling, reasoning etc have failed, the fear of further violence often limits women's resistance. The only form of control that seems available to women at this point is limiting the harm done to them.

Myth: Men of certain races and backgrounds are more likely to commit sexual violence.
Reality: There is no typical rapist. Studies show that men who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. 85% of rapists are men known to their victims.

Myth: Men who rape or sexually assault are mentally ill or monsters.
Reality: Studies have indicated that as few as 5% of men are psychotic at the time of their crimes. Few convicted rapists are referred for psychiatric treatment.

Myth: The man was drunk / on drugs / depressed / under stress / wasn't himself.
Reality: Men use a variety of excuses to justify the act of rape.

There is never an excuse.

Myth: Once a man is sexually aroused he cannot help himself. He has to have sex.
Reality: Studies show that most rapes are premeditated i.e. they are either wholly or partially planned in advance. All rapes committed by more than one assailant are always planned. Men can quite easily control their urges to have sex - they do not need to rape a woman to satisfy them. Rape is an act of violence - not sexual gratification. Men who rape or sexually assault does so to dominate, violate and control.

Myth: Men who rape are sexually frustrated / do not have the opportunity to have sex with a willing partner.
Reality: Men who rape are as likely as any other man to be cohabiting or having a significant relationship with a woman. More than one in five women are raped by their partners or their husbands. Women who work as prostitutes or in the sex industry are usually dismissed as rape victims because of bias by the police, criminal justice system, juries and society in general.

Myth: Women make up stories about being raped.
Reality: Reporting to the police can be a difficult decision. There are many myths that underlie the belief that women make false and malicious allegations of rape against innocent men. Studies show however, that the allegations of rape that are false are exactly the same as that of any other crime i.e. 6-8%

Myth: Women cannot rape.
Reality: The majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women and children. Nonetheless, a small number of women do perpetrate sexual violence. Often women and children who've been sexually assaulted or abused by women, for example within their family or a same-sex relationship, are particularly fearful that they will not be believed, that their experiences won't be taken seriously or won't be considered 'as bad' as being raped by a man. This can make it difficult for these survivors to access services or justice.

In law, only a man can commit the offence of Rape [Sec 1 (1) SOA 2003], as this is defined as penetration with a penis. Non-consensual penetration with something other than a penis is defined as Sexual Assault by Penetration. For those who've experienced sexual violence that involved penetration by something other than a penis, whoever the perpetrator was, these legal definitions can feel restrictive, and as if their experience is not considered as serious.

Rape Crisis provides specialist services to women and girls who've experienced any form of sexual violence at any time in their lives. When we work with survivors, we are led by them, encourage them to name and frame their own experiences, and use the language that they find most meaningful and respresentative, rather than strict legal terminology.


Why These Myths Exist

Rape is an act which is totally controlled by the perpetrator. During rape a woman's right to be self-empowered and sexually self-determined is completely denied. Our sexuality is fundamental to our sense of ourselves and such a violation takes away the control we expect to have over our bodies and our lives.

Everyone has ideas about what rape is - who does it to whom and why; and women who have been raped will be affected by whatever preconceptions they themselves have held about rape as well as by the attitudes of others they come into contact with.

Often women will go over in their mind, things like, 'I accepted a drink from him...', 'I refused to have a drink with him...', 'I shouldn't have gone on that second date...', 'I invited him in for coffee...' and find a way of blaming themselves; but since when was meeting for a coffee, or having a drink an invitation to rape?

If you have always thought of rape in terms of strangers in the street, and a friend or partner rapes you in your own home, it may be hard initially even to recognise that what happened as rape.

By talking with other women who have experienced sexual violence about our experiences we can validate our own reality and release ourselves from the myths that surround us in society.

Rape is not only an individual experience, but it is part of a much larger pattern of the power relationships between men and women.

As it is, many women are left in a position of being on their own dealing not only with physical effects, but also feeling isolated, angry, guilty, and full of shame but also surrounded by myths and prejudices that deny their reality.

Are rapists motivated by sex?

Men who rape do so to secure power and control. Men who rape children do so to secure power and control. Rapists are therefore motivated by power and control using a forced sexual act to achieve this is just a way of gaining power - not a way of gaining sexual relief.

Does pornography lead to rape?

Studies show that of the 200 million people online at any time between 25 to 30% are using pornography sites. The only words entered in search engines more often than 'sex' are 'the' and 'and'. At the time of writing there were more than 400,000 websites worldwide that offer child pornography, which is illegal in every country in the world but despite this there was a 345% increase in child porn websites in a 5 month recorded period in 2003.
Source: Cornwall Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre.

There are differing opinions on this issue within society. However, in the majority of pornography, women are depicted as the passive image and men are in control of what they use that image for. This form of inequality may lead to some men wanting to replicate that power relationship with real women, not just images.

Research has shown that exposure to 'extreme' pornography increased risk of developing pro-rape attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, and committing sexual offences. Although this was also true of some pornography which did not meet the extreme pornography threshold, it showed that the effects of extreme pornography were more serious.
(Source: www.justice.gov.uk/docs/280907a.pdf

Except for the minority of people who think that you should show anything, including rape - everyone supports some form of censorship. Therefore, it is not a question of being for or against censorship; it's about where you draw the line and why. Why should one censor? Take advertising as an example. If advertising didn't work, multi-national companies would not bother spending literally millions on advertising their wares. If the adverts have an effect on society and the buying public, then we are entitled to assume that pornography will also have an effect.

Reproduced with kind permission of South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre.

Facebook

Twitter News

What People Say About Us

"I feel like I have a much calmer outlook in how I deal with difficult emotions. It has given me space to process my experiences safely."

Service User

"It helped me move forward. I have been able to leave my house and go out. I can now do things I never thought I would be able to do again."

Service User

"Helped to make sense of things and re-assurance that just because he was found not guilty doesn't mean it didn't happen."

Service User