by Teresia Smith
As we are bombarded with media constantly, we must be vigilant to seek the truth and not fall into believing something just because it’s repeated in the news.
When it comes to sexual assault, there are many viewpoints that are expressed and often they are based on non-truths. Many misconceptions are promoted about sexual assault that tend to shift blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Understanding these misconceptions can help you as a victim in your recovery, or you as a friend of a victim, to better assist in their recovery. Bottom line: sexual assault is a crime, and you are not to blame for the perpetrator’s behavior.
Fallacy: Sexual assault happens because people get overwhelmed with their sexual desires and cannot control themselves.
Truth: Sexual assault is, like many other crimes, about power and control. The perpetrator purposely allows their desires to overpower someone else’s non-consent by taking away the survivor’s choice to not engage in a sexual situation. This is not about sexual desire – it is an act of violence. Perpetrators commit sexual assault because they feel entitled to act out their desires and disregard another’s right to non-consent.
Fallacy: Sexual assault happens when people get drunk. If they were not drunk, the sexual assault wouldn’t happen.
Truth: Consuming alcohol doesn’t cause sexual assault; however, perpetrators do use alcohol and drugs to assist in an assault. Like most crimes, the perpetrator is looking for an opportunity. When someone is incapacitated, they become an easy target, but the victim’s use of alcohol did not cause the perpetrator’s actions. Also, at times a perpetrator will try to use their own alcohol or drug use as an excuse for their behavior, renouncing responsibility. Nevertheless, being drunk does not release someone from responsibility for any crimes they commit, and any sexual activity must have clear consent from both parties.
Fallacy: It must have been consensual if they didn’t fight back. If they had fought back, there would be bruises or evidence of an assault.
Truth: Humans have three responses when faced with a dangerous situation: fight, flight or freeze. In a very frightening situation, an automatic response for some is to freeze. It is uncontrollable and not something they actually decide to do. About half of rape victims experience this immobility during the attack. This does not mean it was consensual.
Fallacy: Most rapists are strangers.
Truth: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows or even someone with whom they have a relationship. Many times this is a roommate, friend, coworker, spouse, ex-partner, coach, etc. There is often “grooming” involved where the perpetrator has worked to gain the victim’s trust, and the assault comes as a shock.
Fallacy: If they were really sexually assaulted, they would report it to the police or someone in power.
Truth: In reality, few rapes are reported. Many victims report feeling embarrassed or ashamed, and many blame themselves. Many feel they will not be taken seriously or believed and fear being drug thru the mud if they go to trial. Even though a lot of victims do not report a rape to the police, they do tell a friend.
These are only a few myths that need to be addressed. Educating ourselves is the first step in transforming our culture to one where victims are not blamed. We take rape reports seriously. We hold perpetrators responsible for their actions, and survivors can feel safe and supported.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama is here for you. Call our 24-hour HELPline at 256-716-1000 or our local office at 256-574-5826 for more information. Our services are confidential and offered at no charge.