Last week, the Safe Teens blog helped break the silence surrounding sexual assault by posting the top five myths regarding sexual violence. But because sexual violence is a topic many are reluctant to talk about, the myths, unfortunately, do not end with five. Here are five more:
Myth #6: Women routinely make up allegations of sexual violence. In fact, the majority of rapes are never reported to the police and most rapists never spend a day behind bars. Because all victim/survivors of sexual violence face emotional and other barriers to reporting sexual violence (the first of which is recognizing it), many other forms of sexual violence are reported even less.
Myth #7: It’s not sexual violence if s/he was aroused. Arousal is a physiological response to a stimulus. It is in no way an indication that the victim/survivor “wanted it” or “liked it.” In fact, your body is wired to react the same way to consensual and nonconsensual sex. No matter what your body did, if you did not consent, you were sexually assaulted. Again, only yes means yes – and only sometimes (see Myth #5).
Myth #8: Sexual violence is a women’s issue. Sexual violence is a men’s issue not only because the vast majority of rapes are committed by men but also because it partly results from what it means to be a man in our culture. Many believe that as long as boys and men believe they can prove their masculinity through acts of dominance and “getting girls,” women and men and boys and girls will continue to fall victim to sexual violence.
Myth #9: There will always be a few bad apples. It’s important to remember that rapists are made, not born. Men and boys get their beliefs about sex, sexuality and gender from other men in their lives – real, flesh and bone men and pixelated men on screen. One study found that sociologists can distinguish between “rape prone” and “rape free” groups of men in part by these beliefs, demonstrating that culture, perhaps more than anything in nature, contributes to sexual violence.
Myth #10: I can’t do anything about sexual violence. Anti-violence educator Jackson Katz once wrote that “it takes a village to rape a woman” to demonstrate how the blame for sexual violence lies not only with the person perpetrating the violence but also with those complicit with it. Everyone can do something to prevent sexual violence. If you suspect someone you know is a victim/survivor of sexual violence or a perpetrator of sexual violence – or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general – speak up. Talk with them about it or talk with someone who can. Many local and national organizations provide free and confidential instant message-based and phone-based hotlines. Additionally, speak up when others make sexist jokes. Most importantly, perhaps, have the courage to look inward and try to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
Sexual violence is preventable – and one of the first steps to preventing it is understanding it. When you hear sexual violence myths, point them out to others. With one in four girls and one in six boys sexually assaulted before the age of 18, we can no longer afford to be silent.