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Myths & Victim Blaming

Sexual Assault Myths

Rape Culture is a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent.

The buttons below are some of the myths associated with sexual assault and consent:

FACT - 90% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
This can be a friend or acquaintance (also known as acquaintance rape), or it could be a partner or family member. Because of the close relationship these people may have, victims are generally more trusting and do not suspect that this person could hurt them. This dynamic leads to an increased sense of guilt for victims who may blame themselves for not recognizing the potential threat and taking more action to prevent an assault. These types of assaults are also heavily under-reported due to this close relationship and the worry and guilt the victim may feel over "ruining this persons life".
FACT - Estimates put the number of false reports around 2%.
This is lower than the number of false reports for theft, which is around 10%.
Reporting a sexual assault is not easy, and around 90% of cases go unreported. A contributing factor of this is the beliefs of some officials who respond to sexual assault, such as police officers or attorneys. This is a quote from a seasoned detective (15 years in a sex crime unit): "The stuff they say makes no sense" - referring to victims - "So no I don't always believe them and yeah I let them know that. And then they say 'Nevermind. I don't want to do this.' Okay, then. Complainant refused to prosecute; case closed."
FACT - Submission does not equal consent. A lack of "no" does not mean "yes".
There are many reasons why someone may not struggle or fight back. They may not feel safe to do so or they could have been pressured into submission. Also, an estimated 12-50% of rape victims experience Tonic Immobility during an assault.
Tonic Immobility is an involuntary response where they body freezes in situations that provoke extreme fear. Its most marked characteristic is total muscular paralysis in which the victim's body decides playing dead is the safest course of action
FACT - This belief serves to condone the actions of rapists because they are seen as fundamentally unable to NOT commit rape.
The implication of this idea is that every male, given the right situation, could and would commit sexual violence. This is not only untrue; it is insulting to men. While it is a fact that the majority of sexual assualts (approximately 95% or higher) are committed by males, it is not true that the majority of males are rapists.
The reality is perpetrators rape because they feel they can rape and get away with it, not because they can't help but rape.
FACT - People cannot be held responsible for another person's behavior.
The belief that a victim can "provoke" a sexual assault is built on the idea that perpetrators cannot control themselves. This places the responsibility of control, and therefore the blame, with the victims.
Perpetrators deliberately seek out victims who will not tell or who won't be perceived as credible if they do tell. Attractiveness is, therefore, much less of a risk factor for being assaulted than vulnerability.
FACT - Consent is not a binding contract that relinquishes all subsequent decision-making power and gives a person complete control over another's body.
In order for sexual contact to be truly consensual, each party must have the complete and unimpaired right to decide, from moment to moment, what they are comfortable doing. If a person consents to kissing and fondling, but does not consent to intercourse, or if a person consents to intercourse but then changes their mind for whatever reason, that decision must be immediately respected.
Also, consent to one sexual encounter does not mean that person is consenting to any future encounters. This applies to hook-ups and also to people who have been in a long-term relationship. Being in a relationship or a marriage does not give someone immediate and consistent access to their partner's body.

Victim Blaming

Victim Blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime is held responsible -in whole or in part- for the crime(s) that have been committed against them.

One reason people blame a victim is to distance themselves from an unpleasant or traumatic experience and, thereby, confirming their own invulnerability to the risk. People reassure themselves by thinking, "Because I am not like them, because I do not do that, this would never happen to me."
Victim blaming attitudes marginalize the survivor and make it harder for them to come forward and report. If the survivor knows that you or society blames them for the assault, they will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.

Offenders sometimes state things like, "she was asking for it," a statement which shifts blame for the attack onto the survivors. As a society, we (especially women) have been bombarded with techniques on how to prevent being sexually assaulted. You may have heard these ones:

  • "Watch your drink."
  • "Don't dress too sexy!"
  • "Don't walk along at night."
  • "Don't drink too much!"

Of course, these don't seem like bad tips, but we need to understand something. This "be safe" mentality builds a false sense of security by letting individuals believe that sexual assault is preventable. It's not! So, someone who has taken all the proper precautions and is sexually assaulted might feel ashamed and confused - might feel like they should have done more to prevent the attack.

Unfortunately, prevention techniques don't challenge the root cause of sexual violence. There is a difference between doing things that make you feel safe versus believing that when you take these precautions, you have no chance of being assaulted. Sexual Violence is a crime of opportunity. Offenders look for the right moment and choose to commit a sexual assault while justifying their actions. Even if you did not take ANY precautions, you are not to blame for being assaulted!

This dialogue demonstrates how victim blaming applied to another type of crime can sound ridiculous...then why does it not seem that way when applied to sexual assault? That is because of the multiple sexual assault myths mentioned above; this type of response in regards to sexual assault has become normalized and accepted.

Rape is never the survivor's fault!
Perpetrators are 100% responsible for their own actions!

*Adapted from CCASA and SCSU

Local Hotlines

24-Hr Sexual Assault Hotline
(920) 722-8150
24-Hr Domestic Abuse Hotline
(920) 235-5998

Contact Information
Name: Stephanie Kitzerow
Phone: (920) 424-2061
Email: kitzeros@uwosh.edu
Hours: M-F: 8:30am-4:30pm
Office: Student Success Center, Suite 240
(Inside the Counseling Center)
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