Myths & Realities

Know the Myths and Realities of Sexual Assault

Myth #1: Sexual assault is really just about sex.

Reality: Sexual assault is a crime committed in a sexual manner. It is about power and humiliation, and it is a socially learned behavior that correlates with history, gender roles, conditioning, and how sexual violence is portrayed in the media. Sexual assault cannot be provoked by a victim. By its very nature, sexual assault is not consensual.

Myth #2: Sexual assaults only happen between people who just met or are perpetrated by a stranger.

Reality: Sexual violence has nothing to do with how well the person knows the assailant. The vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows: a friend, acquaintance, fellow classmate, teammate, dating partner or ex-dating partner.

Myth #3: If a person does not fight back, they weren't really sexually assaulted.

Reality: Fight and flight are not the only ways a person responds during a traumatic event. During an assault, many experience tonic immobility or a “freeze response”.

Myth #4: There are many false reports of sexual assault, especially when the victim and the assailant know each other.

Reality: National research suggested that the rate of false reporting for sexual assault is the same as for other crimes – only 2-8%. Additionally, in the 1996 National Criminal Victimization Survey, the Bureau of Justice Statistics proposed that only 30.7% of all rapes are reported to the police. The problem of not reporting is much larger than false reports.

Myth #5: Sexual assaults only happen in or around bars, at parties, or in alley ways.

Reality: Most victims who have been sexually assaulted were in an environment they considered safe and were assaulted by someone they thought they could trust.

Myth #6: Anyone who gets drunk or takes drugs is partially responsible for being sexually assaulted.

Reality: Someone who is passed out, unconscious or incapacitated because of alcohol or drugs is unable to give consent. Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault, and it is never the victim’s fault.

Myth #7: Only woman can be sexually assaulted.

Reality: Individuals of any sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression can be and are sexually assaulted. At the same time, individuals of any sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression can perpetrate sexual assault.

Myth #8: There is nothing we can do to prevent sexual violence.

Reality: Bystanders can act to prevent sexual violence both indirectly and directly, as well as before, during and even after an assault has occurred. You can learn how by becoming an Upstander.

Know the Myths and Realities of Relationship Violence

Myth #1: Relationship violence is only physical abuse.

Reality: Physical violence is part of a larger pattern of abuse. Relationship violence may include emotional/verbal, sexual, financial/economic, or cultural/identity abuse.  Sometimes there is no physical abuse, but the abuser will use other ways to exert power and control over a partner. 

Myth #2: Relationship violence will eventually stop; it's just a phase.

Reality: Relationship violence involves a pattern of controlling behaviors that can span a lifetime and multiple victims. Abusers will only change when they take full responsibility for their behavior and realize they do not have the right to control and abuse; which may never happen. 

Myth #3: Relationship violence only happens to certain people; my partner isn't that kind of person. 

Reality: Relationship violence can happen to anyone, regardless of race, religion, income status, gender, or sexual orientation. Oftentimes, abusive partners are "good people", they are not always the "monster" media portrays them to be.

Myth #4: If my partner is jealous of my friends it means they care about me. 

Reality: Jealousy is often an abuser's excuse to control and isolate their partner. While jealousy can be a natural feeling, it depends on what is done with the feeling. If jealousy is turning into controlling behavior, telling you where to go and who to talk to, it is unhealthy and can lead to isolation. Isolation from friends and family is a form of abuse; removing support systems and making a survivor reliant on their abuser. 

Myth #5: My partner "jokes around" a lot and playfully hits me; it's not that bad so it's not abusive. 

Reality: Relationships should be fun and enjoyable, even through natural conflict. Behavior crosses the line into unhealthy when one partner is not comfortable with it, it becomes disrespectful, or someone gets hurt (either emotionally or physically).

Myth #6: When a partner is violent, it is because they "lost their temper", and not because they meant to hurt their partner. 

Reality: Abusers use violence because it helps them gain and maintain power and control, not because they lose control of their emotions. Abusers act deliberately. Abusers choose whom and when to abuse. For example, an abuser will abuse their partner but not their boss or coworkers regardless of the amount of stress they experience at work. Violence nearly always happens in private spaces with no witnesses. 

Myth #7: Victims have done something to cause the abuse. 

Reality: Abusers choose their actions. Abuse is NEVER the fault of the victim/survivor.

Myth #8: Relationship violence is a private family matter. 

Reality: Relationship violence is everyone's business. Keeping relationship violence secret helps no one, has been shown to harm children, incurs substantial costs to society, and serves to perpetrate abuse through learned patterns of behavior. 

Myth #9: People who stay in abusive relationships are crazy. If they don't leave, it means they like the abuse or are exaggerating how bad it is. 

Reality: There are many reasons why a victim may not leave, including fear for themselves, children, and pets. Often victims face significant practical barriers to separating from their partners, including a lack of money and housing options. Due to the effects of abuse, many victims may lack confidence in their own abilities and accurate information about their options. Not leaving does not mean that the situation is okay or that the victim wants to be abused. The most dangerous time for a victim who is being abused is when they try to leave. Which is why it is so important to connect them to supportive resources