Myths & facts

1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence of some kind. 400,000 women are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year – only 15% of these assaults are reported to the police.

1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence over the course of their lifetime.

Abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of ethnicity, age, class, religion, sexuality, gender, disability or lifestyle; and anyone can be an abuser.

Fact: Fewer than 9% of rapes are committed by strangers, and 90% of rapes are committed by known men. 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 makes women feel responsible for their assaults, as if they should have taken more care to protect themselves. But in fact, the only person who is responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator.

Fact: Women and girls of all ages, cultures, and lifestyles are raped. Rape is an act of violence, not sex, and ‘attractiveness’ is not a factor who is or is not targeted for rape. Rapists choose women based on their vulnerability, not their physical appearance.

Fact: No woman asks or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted. Rapists use a variety of excuses to attempt to discredit the women they rape and to justify their crime. 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.

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 70’s and 80’s were glorified by the press, because their victims worked in the sex industry.

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.

Fact: 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.

Fact: Rapists will often use weapons or threats of violence to intimidate. The fact that there is no visible evidence of violence does not mean that a woman has not been raped. Faced with the reality of rape, women make second-by-second decisions, all of which are directed at minimising the harm done to them. Many freeze to avoid further physical harm, which can be a perfectly rational response to a horrific situation.

Fact: There is no typical rapist. Men who commit sexual violence come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. Nearly 90% of rapists are men known to their victims.

Fact: Few convicted rapists are referred for psychiatric treatment.

Fact: People use a variety of excuses to justify the act of rape. There is never an excuse.

Fact: Men can easily control their sexual urges. Most rapes are premeditated – wholly or partially planned in advance. Rape is an act of violence, not sexual gratification. Men who rape or sexually assault do so to dominate, violate and control.

Fact: 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.

Fact: 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 – around 4%.

Fact: The legal definition of rape involves penetration with a penis, but anyone can commit sexual assault. Because the majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women, women and children who’ve been assaulted by women worry 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.

Fact: Sex workers have the same right to consent, and to withhold and withdraw consent that anyone else has. Non-consensual sex with a sex worker is rape. Having paid for sex does not entitle anyone to rape another person. Despite this, bias against sex workers on the part of the police, criminal justice system, juries and society in general means that sex workers who have experienced rape or sexual assault often struggle to be recognised as survivors.

Keep up to date, sign up to our newsletter

Escape to Google