The following are just an example of the common myths that prevail in our society:
The majority of sexual abuse is committed by strangers.
FALSE: Research shows that in approximately 85-90% of cases, the abuser is known to, and trusted by, the person. The abuser could be a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance.
Sexual abuse occurs in all communities, cultures and classes.
TRUE: Sexual abuse occurs across all cultures, communities and social classes. It can happen to anyone. Abusers can come from any ethnic, racial or social background. Men, women, boys and girls of all ages, classes, culture, ability, sexuality, race and faith can be raped or sexually abused.
Sexual abusers are all ‘dirty old men in grubby raincoats’, and are therefore easily identifiable.
FALSE: There is no typical rapist. The majority of sexual abusers present themselves as kind and caring people, often deceiving not only the person but also the people around them. Abusers will integrate themselves into a family or community and then befriend the person, lavishing them with attention, becoming a ‘special friend’. If it is familial abuse, the person does not want to lose the relationship or see the abuser punished, which is capitalised on to reduce the risk of exposure. Abusers appear normal to avoid exposure, sometimes regarded as pillars of the community. Only a small percentage of abusers are thought to have any mental illness.
All sexual abusers were themselves abused in childhood.
FALSE: Research has found that 66% of paedophiles claim to have been abused in childhood but it is more likely to be about 30%. 1 in 8 abused children go on to sexually abuse other children. The majority of male and female survivors do not go on to sexually abuse.
Only gay men sexually abuse boys.
FALSE: The majority of sexual abusers are heterosexual men. It is often believed that men/boys who are abused by other men must be gay. However, men and boys of all sexual orientations can be raped.
Women abuse too.
TRUE: Research has shown that approximately 20-25% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by women. Children under 5 years old are more at risk from female sexual abusers.
Sexual abuse can sometimes involve pleasure for the person.
TRUE: People may experience sexual arousal and pleasure during sexual abuse. This is a normal physiological reaction and does not mean that the person either wanted it or enjoyed it. Feeling aroused by the abuse can lead to feelings of being betrayed by their body and shame.
People who dress in a certain way, or who accept a drink from someone on a night out, are “asking for it”.
FALSE: Take Back the Night (also known as Reclaim the Night) is an internationally held march and rally intended as a protest and direct action against rape and other forms of sexual violence. One of their main objectives is campaigning for people to feel safe on the streets at night, and to use public space without fear.
If the person didn’t say ‘no’ or shout / fight / struggle then how could the other person know they didn’t want it? It therefore couldn’t have been rape.
FALSE: By law, a person consents to sexual activity if she/he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If they were scared for their life or the safety of others or if they were asleep / unconscious / incapacitated through alcohol or drugs then they did not have the freedom or the capacity to make that choice. If they froze / flopped / went limp through fear, if they didn’t say ‘no’ or were unable to speak through shock, if they didn’t shout / fight / struggle, this does not mean that they gave consent.
Sex workers cannot be raped or sexually abused.
FALSE: The transaction negotiated between a sex worker and a client must be consensual. The sex worker has the right to withdraw this consent at any time. Any non-consensual sexual activity with a sex worker is still rape, regardless of whether the client has paid for sex.
Many people make up stories about being raped.
FALSE: Unfortunately, the media tend to concentrate on the small number of cases that involve a false allegation of sexual abuse. This compounds the public perception that false reporting of sexual offences is a lot more common than it actually is. The statistics speak for themselves – the Crown Prosecution Service published a report in March 2013 which confirmed that false allegations of rape are “very rare” and actually make up less than 1% of all reported sexual offences. To put this into context, the false reporting rates for other crimes is approximately 4%.
Trust House believes:
Survivors respond in a variety of ways to abuse—there is no “normal” response.
All survivors have the right to be heard and believed.
Vulnerabilities are used as opportunities by abusers but vulnerabilities can be counteracted by raising awareness of possible risks or abuse.
Many people do not see the signs of abuse.
No one “asks” to be raped or sexually abused, no matter how they behave or what they wear. Abuse is always the responsibility of the abuser.
Abuse is not about sex, it is about power.