April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this April, communities across the country are breaking the silence to talk about sexual violence. It’s a topic that affects us all; one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Despite those staggering numbers, many are still reluctant to talk about this sometimes uncomfortable topic. Silence on any topic leads to widespread and numerous myths; this is especially true when it comes to sexual violence.
Here are the top five myths regarding sexual violence:
Myth #1: Sexual violence is rape. While rape is certainly a type of sexual violence, it is not the only type. Sexual violence occurs any time a person is forced, coerced, or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity. The continuum of sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, martial or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, exposure and voyeurism.
Myth #2: Rapists lurk in dark alleys. While some rapists do in fact lurk in dark alleys, you are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know. It is estimated that 70% of all rapes are acquaintance rapes – that is, rapes committed by someone known by the victim/survivor.
Myth #3: Men can’t be raped. In fact, men can be raped – by other men and by women. In January, the U.S. Justice Department broadened the definition of rape to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Myth #4: S/he asked for it: Wearing a short skirt or drinking too much is not a crime. Walking alone or asking someone to your bedroom is not a crime. Being afraid to say no is not a crime. Sexual assault is always a crime. Bottom line: No one ever asks to be raped and sexual assault is never justified.
Myth #5: It’s not rape if s/he didn’t say no. While no always means no, only yes can mean yes – and only sometimes. For sex not to be considered sexual assault, both partners must consent – or agree to – sex. Sexual assault can occur even if the victim/survivor didn’t say no and even if s/he says yes if alcohol or coercion or guilt is used to get the victim to say yes when they normally wouldn’t.
Stay tuned for more myths. Sexual violence is preventable – and one of the first steps to preventing it is understanding it. If you or someone you know have or may have experienced sexual violence, seek help. Many local and national organizations provide free and confidential instant message-based and phone-based hotlines.