Myths

There are many myths about sexual violence that influence how it is understood by survivors, perpetrators, their families and friends and the broader public. These “rape myths” are all around us in society—in the media, in advertisements, on television shows, in movies and video games and on the Internet.

The table below presents some of the myths associated with sexual abuse, taken from Developing a Response to Sexual Violence: A Resource Guide for Ontario’s Colleges and UniversitiesInformation Guide for Sexual Assault Victims as well as a training guide prepared by a Quebec regional health and social services agency for staff and others who provide psychosocial support to victims of sexual assault.

Myth Reality

A person cannot be sexually assaulted by their partner.

Sexual assault can occur in a marriage or other intimate partner relationship.

It wasn’t sexual assault because the person didn’t report it to the police.

Just because a victim doesn’t report the assault doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Fewer than 1 in 10 victims report the crime to police.

The person didn’t scream or fight, so it wasn’t sexual assault.

A victim can become paralyzed with fear and be unable to fight back. They may be afraid that by struggling, the perpetrator will become more violent. Under the influence of drugs or alcool, they may be unable to react or resist.

The person isn’t crying or visibly upset, so it wasn’t a serious sexual assault.

Each person reacts differently. They may cry or be calm, be silent or very angry. Their behaviour is not necessarily an indicator of the trauma they experienced.

The person doesn’t have any obvious physical injuries, such as cuts or bruises, so it’s not sexual assault.

Lack of physical injury doesn’t mean the person wasn’t sexually assaulted. The perpetrator may use threats, weapons or other types of coercion that do not leave physical marks. They may have been unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

It wasn’t rape, so it wasn’t sexual violence.

Any unwanted sexual contact is considered sexual violence. Many forms of sexual violence-such as stalking or distributing intimate videos-involve no physical contact. All of these acts are serious and can be damaging.

It’s no big deal to have sex with a person who is drunk, stoned or passed out.

If the person is unconscious and cannot legally give consent or is incapable of consenting due to the use of alcohol or drugs, it’s sexual assault.

If it really happened, the person would be able to remember what happened and in the proper order.

Shock, fear, embarrassment and distress can all impair memory. Many survivors attempt to minimize or forget the details of the assault as a way of coping with the trauma. In addition, memory loss is common if alcohol or drugs were involved.

When a person says “no”, it usually means “yes”.

When a person says “no”, it means “no”. By ignoring the person’s refusal ou choosing not to understand, the offender is not respecting her decision. Without mutual consent, it’s sexual assault.

Women lie and make up stories about being sexually assaulted.

The number of false reports of sexual assault is very low, consistent with the number of false reports for other crimes in Canada. Sexual assault carries such stigma that many women prefer not to report.

Some victims just ask for it because of how they behave and dress.

A person does not ask to be sexually assaulted through their actions or appearance. Things like hitchhiking, staying out late, drinking or doing drugs, dressing seductively, wanting a relationship or expressing a desire to go home with someone—none of these constitutes an invitation or provocation to sexual assault.

Persons who become sexually excited or have an orgasm during a sexual assault are consenting because they’re experiencing pleasurable feelings.

It’s possible for a person to have a physical reaction to sexual stimulation, even when being sexually assaulted. Regardless of the person’s physical reaction, it doesn’t mean the person consented to the assault.

Offenders can’t control their sexual urges.

Sexual assault is an act of violence. It is not about sexual desire. These assaults are not about attraction or an inability to control urges. They are about control over another person. There are no physiological conditions that prevent offenders from being able to control themselves. Everyone has control over their body’s sexual urges.

All offenders have mental health problems.

Most of the time, the alleged attacker is a member of the victim’s family or an acquaintance who has no mental health problems.

All men who sexually assault other males are homosexuals.

There are offenders who have preferences as to the sex or age of their victims. Most men who sexually assault other males are heterosexual.

Tools and resources

Please note that the feminine is used throughout this website, but it does not exclude any person who has been a victim of sexual violence.

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