Addressing the most pervasive sexual assault myths

For the last installment in the Sexual Assault Awareness Month series, we are debunking some of the most pervasive sexual assault myths with statistics from and NPR and commentary from Graduate Assistant for Bystander Intervention and Prevention Education, Bill Arnold.

Myth 1.) The perpetrator is a stranger lurking in a dark alley.

The narrative follows the line that you should always carry pepper spray, never walk alone and make four right turns to keep yourself safe from the stranger in the alley. If you do that, your chances of being sexually assaulted are greatly diminished, right? Wrong. The perpetrator is often someone the victim knows.

According to

  • Two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim
  • 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance
  • 50 percent of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within one mile of their home or at their home

According to Arnold, “There’s a certain kind of self-protective value to that myth. This idea that if it is these strangers and there are these conditions then I am not at risk provided I do the right thing and avoid those things. It’s also conducive to victim blaming amongst women.”

Myth 2.) The victim provokes the perpetrator with “revealing” clothing or flirting.

Let’s think about it this way: Are you sexually assaulted every single time you choose to be comfortable in your skin and wear a low-cut shirt or a “short” skirt? No. Has every guy that you have ever flirted with sexually assaulted you? No. Then there is not a correlation between the presence of “revealing” clothing or flirting and being sexually assaulted; the difference is the presence of a rapist.

That myth “feels true until you have a healthy definition of sexuality to replace it with. We think serial perpetrators or any perpetrators are these oversexed people who can’t control themselves when they see someone wearing revealing clothing because we have this fucked up notion of what sexuality is, generally,” Arnold said.

Myth 3.) Men can’t be raped.

“An aspect of hegemonic masculinity is that men have to be up—figuratively and literally—for sex all the time, so it doesn’t allow for the possibility that a man could ever be raped by a female partner that he is in a heterosexual relationship with,” said Arnold. “We define manhood partly in terms of being up for sex.”

According to, 3 percent of American men have experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

Myth 4.) Minorities can’t be raped.
The statistics speak for themselves:
Lifetime rate of rape/attempted rape for women by race: 1
• All women: 17.6 percent
• White women: 17.7 percent
• Black women: 18.8 percent
• Asian Pacific Islander women: 6.8 percent
• American Indian/Alaskan women: 34.1 percent
• Mixed race women: 24.4 percent

Myth 5.) If you’re drinking, you’re putting yourself at risk for being raped.

Absolutely not. “The only thing you should expect to happen to you when you drink too much is to be hungover. There’s an organic cause and effect there. There is no organic cause and effect between someone drinking too much and someone else choosing to sexually assault you,” Arnold said.



Myth 6.) False rape claims are common.

According to Stanford University, only 2 percent of rape claims are falsely reported.

“To think that a person would benefit from reporting sexual assault means ignoring or being completely oblivious of all of the ways survivors of sexual assault are stigmatized,” Arnold said.

Myth 7.) Sexual assault is often just a miscommunication.

First, let’s leave this statistic from NPR here: “On college campuses, repeat predators account for nine out of every 10 rapes.”

Again, there is a popular narrative that accompanies that myth: a guy and a girl are fooling around, she can’t decide if she wants to go further, they do, she wakes up the next morning drowning in regret and cries rape. That narrative is incorrect.

Arnold encourages an inquiry into whether or not the perpetrator has acknowledged what he has done as wrong.

“There are the serial perpetrators who don’t care about consent and are either aroused by or oblivious of hurting people,” he said.

Myth 8.) Sexual assault happens, because the perpetrator just can’t control their sexual urges.

The above statistic applies here also: serial sexual assault predators encompass nine out of every 10 rapes on college campuses. How many times can perpetrators use the excuse that they just couldn’t help it?

Myth 9.) Most perpetrators go to jail or are at least charged.

The statistics are astounding:

  • 98 percent of perpetrators will never spend a day in jail

Out of every 100 rapes:

  • 32 are reported
  • 7 lead to an arrest
  • 3 are referred to prosecutors
  • 2 lead to a felony conviction
  • 2 rapists will spend a day in prison
  • 98 will walk free



Myth 10.) Sexual assault is something victims just “get over.”

“Some people internalize that myth as their attempt to heal,” Arnold said.

According to, victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.



Myth 11.) Bystanders should not interfere in a questionable situation.

“This notion of bystander intervention has this connotation of interfering,” Arnold said.

He continues to explain that as a bystander you don’t necessarily have to aggressively interfere if you see a questionable situation. Sometimes interfering can simply mean asking someone if they’re OK.

Myth 12.) Sexual assault does not occur in polyamorous or same sex relationships.

Arnold points out that in the gender norms we have in our society, there isn’t much room left for LGBTQ when it comes to sexual assault; there are additional barriers in reporting.

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