Sexual assault is not an easy issue to understand. Especially in the aftermath of having been assaulted, the answers to many questions may not be clear:
Was it my fault? Did I do something to cause this? Did I “ask” for it? Deserve it? Could I have prevented it by yelling louder or fighting back or leaving beforehand? Is what happened to me really sexual assault? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Blowing things out of proportion? Dwelling on it to much? Why can’t I just get over it?
Because myths and misunderstandings about sexual assault abound, you may blame yourself, excuse the behavior of the person who hurt you, or minimize the incident and your feelings. One of the myths that leads to self-blame is the idea that rape is perpetrated only by strangers, either in a back alley or who jump out of the bushes.
Studies show that in more that 85% of cases, victims of sexual assault knew the offender. The offender was most likely to be an acquaintance, neighbor, friend, relative or intimate partner.
Although marital rape has only been illegal for the past fifteen years or so, it is in intimate relationships that women are most likely to be violated and assaulted. It is not the relationship with the offender that determines whether or not the experience was sexual assault. Sexual assault is when someone chooses to ignore our wishes and violates our body to make themselves feel powerful or for their sexual gratification.
Although we may try to convince ourselves otherwise, we must remember that nothing we did or said caused the offender to assault or abuse us. No behavior on this planet has as a natural consequence someone raping or assaulting us. There is no “rape-able offense.”
To help clarify this, a re framing technique or flip-flop exercise is useful. Please carefully consider if there is a situation in which you would force or coerce someone into having sexual contact with you. You will quickly realize that no matter what someone wore, what they said to you, whether they were drunk, hitchhiking or belonged to a nudist colony, you would not find rape or any type of sexual assault a reasonable response to someone else’s behavior, whatever it may be.
We did not ask to be raped. We did not cause the rape. We did not want to be raped. We did not deserve to be raped.
The reality of rape shatters the myths. Anyone can be victimized by sexual violence . . . and is. Regardless of age, race, ethnicity, status or class; regardless of appearance, style of dress, or beauty, regardless of past sexual history, marital status, habits or accomplishments.
Being victimized for sexual violence has to do with being chosen by someone who has a plan and then targets someone on which to focus his objective of rape. Sexual assault is not a consequence for being sexually active, making a mistake, doing something wrong or by acting like a free person.
Myths are used to excuse or rationalize the offender’s behavior. The myth that men are really animals that can barely control themselves is insulting to them and to the intelligence of us all. The idea that by drinking, this animal is unleashed; or once a man is “turned on” he can’t “turn off,” is merely a handy excuse for sex offenders.
Understanding that we are responsible for our own actions, but not those of other people, is crucial to the understanding of sexual assault. The offender/ rapist is 100% responsible for his actions.
Sexual assault is not a crime of impulse, not uncontrollable and not sex “gone bad.” To be able to complete a sexual assault, the offender has a plan. It includes methods to control the circumstances of the assault by isolating his victim and making sure she is as intimidated as possible. It is his fingers, his penis, his actions, his choice. We must hold the offender accountable, and expect others to do the same. Rape is an intentional act, an act against our will, without our consent. If something is consensual it means we want it, we agree to it, we are willing, it is mutual.
When weapons and/or physical force are involved in sexual assault, it can be easier to accept that it was clearly against our will. The reality, however, is that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults do not result in serious bodily injury or involve weapons. Offenders have other means at their disposal to intimidate. These include the use or threat of force; trickery; coercion or bribery. The offender takes advantage of some power imbalance, such as age, size, strength, development, knowledge, status, etc. to humiliate, violate and control his victim.
Consider what was going on when you were assaulted. Did you agree to it? Was it mutual? Was your consent considered of any importance? Did it even matter?
Sexual assault is the most committed, and least reported of all violent crime. Rape crisis centers across the U.S. report that only 1 in 100 of the people they work with do or ever have reported to law enforcement.
Consider the prevalence of child sexual abuse and sexual assault — one in three females and one in five males experience some type of sexual abuse or assault before the age of eighteen. If the numbers are this high, why don’t we hear more about it? Because victims are blamed and offenders excused, any survivors are hesitant to disclose or to even believe what happened to them was a crime. It is an unfortunate fact that in the aftermath of sexual assault, survivors and their loved ones believe many of the myths outlined above. Buying into these myths adds to the ammunition used to blame the survivor for a crime committed by another — the perpetrator.