Sexual assault or rape can be defined as one person forcing another person to have sex, or perform sexual acts, through coercion, manipulation, threats, physical restraint, or physical violence. It also includes touching or grabbing intimate body parts for sexual gratification. Sexual assault is not just a crime of sex. It is a crime of power and control where sexual activity or contact is used to dominate and hurt the victim. For teens and young adults, sexual assault is most likely to occur on a date or while in a social setting.
A good, broad definition that works in almost all situations is: anytime anyone does anything of a sexual nature without the express consent of all involved. That means the presence of a yes, not the absence of a no. Silence is not acceptance.
Check out the following list of myths and facts about sexual assault and see if you can guess which are myths and which are facts.
1. Anyone can be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Sexual assault can happen to anyone—any age, race, gender, level of income, or level of education. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are most at risk for being sexually assaulted, but it can happen to anyone. National statistics say that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18.
More than 80% of the time it is a woman who is sexually assaulted, but that does not mean that men cannot be sexually assaulted. Men can also have their drink drugged or be coerced or forced into sexual contact—maybe not always physically, but put in a position where it is hard or impossible to refuse.
2. Most people lie about being sexually assaulted. It’s not really a big problem.
Myth: National studies say that between 2 to 8% of all sexual assault reports are false. That means that as many as 98% of the people who say they are sexually assaulted were, and the majority of people who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone about it.
3. Being talked into or pressured to have sex is not sexual assault.
Myth: Being talked into or tricked into something is called coercion. Being pressured or threatened to engage in sexual activity is part of the definition of force under the law.
4. It is okay to force someone to do something sexual if they’ve been flirting with you.
Myth: It is never okay to force someone into sexual activity. It does not matter how much they’ve flirted or had to drink, how much money you’ve spent on them, etc. Never.
5. All rapists are guys in ski masks, hiding in the bushes, and driving a white panel van.
Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. Very rarely is it a stranger. More often than not, the perpetrator is a man. This is the “nice guy.” He’s the guy that everyone knows, but no one would want him dating their sister. He is willing to “score” at any cost. He believes that “no” means “try harder” and that it is okay to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Yet, everyone thinks he is “such a nice guy.” This does not mean that all guys who are nice are rapists. Most men do not rape.
6. Most people who are sexually assaulted do not fight their attacker.
Fact: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. It is incredibly difficult to think about fighting off an attacker, one who usually outweighs or can out-maneuver the survivor, let alone think about fighting off someone you know, trust, and possibly care about. Self defense moves are all well and good, but most people—even those who are trained—hesitate to use those moves against someone they care about.
7. Alcohol is the most commonly used drug to facilitate a sexual assault.
Fact: Alcohol is easy to get, socially acceptable to use (even if underage), and lowers inhibitions while diminishing physical capabilities. Many sexual assaults occur when someone uses alcohol as a weapon to render someone vulnerable or when someone takes advantage of a person in an incapacitated state. Under most state laws, you are unable to give consent to sexual activity if under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Please check your state law for specifics.
8. It is never the survivor’s fault for being sexually assaulted. It is the rapist’s fault.
Fact: Again, no one asks to be sexually assaulted. Nothing the survivor did or didn’t do caused the assault to happen. It is the rapist’s responsibility not to rape. Blaming the survivor only tells society that it’s okay. Blame belongs to the rapist and the rapist alone.
9. No one can do anything about sexual assault. It’s just one of those problems that can’t be solved.
Myth: There are so many things you can do to end sexual assault. If you see someone drugging someone’s drink or using alcohol as a weapon to “score,” say something. Knock the drink over. Call the cops. Tell the target of the assault. Step up. Speak out. If you hear someone telling their friends that they were going to “get some” no matter what, say something about it. Let them know that is not okay with you. Let others know that that person may not be the safest person to hang out with. Call your friends out when they tell jokes that are degrading or hurtful.