Sexual Assault Myths and Facts
What is sexual assault?
“Any unwanted sexual act done by one person to another or sexual activity without one person’s consent or voluntary agreement.”
Levels of sexual assault:
- s.271: Sexual assault
- s.272: Sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm
- s.273: Aggravated sexual assault
Why address the myths?
Myths are dangerous and can have a substantial negative impact on the following:
- Whether the sexual assault will be disclosed (fear of being blamed, not being believed).
- Whether the sexual assault is defined as a crime of violence.
- The level of support an individual feels they will receive or does in fact receive.
- The questions asked about the sexual assault (may appear accusatory of the individual who was assaulted).
- The resources accessed following the sexual assault.
- Whether the person who offended will be charged/convicted.
- Policies around how disclosures of sexual assaults are handled in organizations.
Some of the common myths that are prevalent in Canadian society surrounding sexual assault include:
Myth – Sexual assault is rare
FACT: In Canada, 39% of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault after the age of 16 (CPVAW, 1993).
Myth – Only women can be sexually assaulted
FACT: Sexual assault is often considered to be a “women’s issue’ but males are also sexually assaulted. Studies indicate that most often males who are sexually assaulted are assaulted as children or teenagers (Badgley, 1984). Little research has been conducted to establish rates of sexual assault for adult males in North America, however, one study reports that 3% of American men report they have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime (National Institute of Justice, 1998).
Myth – People with activity limitations (disabilities) are less likely to be sexually assaulted
FACT: People with activity limitations are more vulnerable in our society because they rely so heavily on other people. We recognize that sexual assault is about power and control and as a result offenders will target more vulnerable members of the community. An offender is 2.4 times more likely to target people with activity limitations than those without. (Criminal Victimization and Health 2009)
Myth – When sexual assault occurs, it is usually committed by a stranger
FACT: In most cases of sexual assault, the offender is known to the survivor – such as an employer, co-worker, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, neighbor, or relative. For example, a report done in 2004 shows that 18% of sexual assaults that were reported to the police had a strangers as the assaulter (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004); the highest percentages of these assaults (28%) were committed by a casual acquaintance of the survivor. In 80-85% of sexual assaults the offender is known to the victim (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2009).
In 2007 Police reported that in 82% of sexual assaults the victim knows the perpetrator and in 18% of incidents, the accused was a stranger or recent acquaintance to the victim.
- 31% of accused are family members.
- 28% are casual acquaintances.
- 8% were identified as friends.
- 6% were identified as authority figures.
- 5% were current or former boyfriends/girlfriends.
- 4% were business acquaintances.
(Statistics Canada. (2010). The Nature of Sexual Offenses)
Myth: It’s only sexual assault if the survivor was beaten and bleeding, or they were threatened with a weapon
FACT: According to the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent, regardless of whether there are physical injuries or a weapon used. According to one study, 86% of women who were sexually assaulted experienced little or no physical injury (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2004). Our Canadian Criminal Code was changed in 1983 to reflect the level of physical violence used during a sexual assault; level one sexual assaults are the most common.
Myth: People who are labeled “easy” cannot be sexually assaulted
FACT: Whether or not someone has had multiple sexual partners, their rights to consent do not change. Every time a person becomes sexually active with another, consent is required. If a person has consented to sexual relations before with a partner it doesn’t mean that consent is automatic.
Myth: If a person offends while under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the sexual assault they cannot be held responsible for their actions
FACT: Offenders are responsible for their actions regardless of if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Being intoxicated does not excuse the actions of the offender and is NOT an acceptable legal defense. The offender made a choice to offend even if they were drunk or high.
Myth: When a woman says “No” she is just playing hard to get
FACT: If a woman says “no” it should never be assumed that it means anything else. In order for both parties to feel comfortable and in control, assumptions should never be made. A man may feel he is getting mixed messages but that is not an excuse for sexual assault. If it is unclear what their partner wants, communication is the only way to make sure both people feel safe and comfortable with what is happening. It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual contact to obtain consent and not interpret what is said any other way.
Myth: Someone in a committed relationship (marriage, dating, common-law) cannot be assaulted by their partner
FACT: Entering into a relationship does not give anyone the right or ownership of another person’s body. Even in a committed relationship there are still two separate individuals involved, and they each have the right to communicate “no”. Being in a committed relationship is no different than any kind of hook up, when it comes to consent. Therefore every time two people engage in sexual activities, consent must obtained.
Myth: Once a person starts to engage in a sexual activity, they cannot change their mind
FACT: Everyone has the right to have control over what happens to their body. They can choose with whom, when and for how long any activity takes place. No matter how far along, or even during sexual activities, a person can change their mind. A kiss is not a contract.
Myth: If your date pays for dinner, they are owed sex in exchange
FACT: If a date pays for dinner or a movie they are never owed sex, or anything for that matter. Consent is always necessary to obtain regardless of if someone has bought you a meal or gifts. Willingness to engage in sexual activities must be done without any feelings of guilt or compensation.
Myth: Women fantasize about being raped
FACT: The difference between aggressive sex and sexual assault is the control someone has over another. During aggressive sex boundaries are respected and both partners feel in control. However, offenders who sexually assault violate and cross the boundaries of other individuals.
Myth: A person commits sexual assault because they are mentally ill, perverted or can’t control their sexual urges
FACT: Sexual assault is about power and control, not sex. It violates not only a survivor’s personal integrity, but also his or her sense of safety and control over his or her life. Studies on offenders state that perpetrators are usually “normal” people, and that they often have families, jobs, and can be respected members of their community. Men who sexually assault are NOT likely to have a greater desire for sex (Johnson,1984).
Myth: If a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol and can’t give consent, it’s ok to have sex with them
FACT: Under the Canadian Federal Law, anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot consent to sexual activities.
Myth: Women who are sexually assaulted dress provocatively, or are out alone at night or use poor judgment. “Nice” women don’t get sexually assaulted
FACT: All people are vulnerable to sexual assault. Anybody of any age, sex, class, race, religion, sexual identity, occupation or physical appearance can be sexually assaulted. Most women who are sexually assaulted are assaulted in their homes (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1994).
Myth: Survivors of a sexual attack are easily identified
FACT: Survivors of sexual violence cope and heal in different ways. There are common reactions that a survivor may express such as anger, mistrust or sadness but if someone doesn’t express these reactions it doesn’t mean their assault never happened, or that it is not impacting them. People experience different emotions and express them differently making it impossible to identify a survivor of sexual violence. All feelings and thoughts expressed by the survivor are normal.
Myth: Sexual assault offenders are easily recognized
Fact: Most sexual assault offenders appear to be normal. Most are married and young. They can be of any race, sexual orientation, colour, or economic class. In fact, 50% of offenders at the time of the assault are married or living common-law, have children, and are considered responsible members of the community
Myth Busting Mondays
To see all of CCASA’s Myth Busting Monday social media posts please see the PDF file below: