#1: Victims provoke sexual assaults when they
dress provocatively or act in a promiscuous manner.
Fact: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of violence
and control that stem from a person's determination
to exercise power over another. Neither provocative
dress nor promiscuous behavior are invitations
for unwanted sexual activity. Forcing someone
to engage in non-consensual sexual activity is
sexual assault, regardless of the way that person
dresses or acts.
Myth #2: If a person goes to someone's room
or house or goes to a bar, she assumes the risk
of sexual assault. If something happens later,
she can't claim that she was raped or sexually
assaulted because she should have known not to
go to those places.
Fact: This "assumption of risk" wrongfully
places the responsibility of the offender's actions
with the victim. Even if a person went voluntarily
to someone's residence or room and consented to
engage in some sexual activity, it does not serve
as a blanket consent for all sexual activity.
If a person is unsure about whether the other
person is comfortable with an elevated level of
sexual activity, the person should stop and ask.
When someone says "No" or "Stop",
that means STOP. Sexual activity forced upon another
without consent is sexual assault.
Myth #3: It's not sexual assault if it happens
after drinking or taking drugs.
Fact: Being under the influence of alcohol or
drugs is not an invitation for non-consensual
sexual activity. A person under the influence
of drugs or alcohol does not cause others to assault
her; others choose to take advantage of the situation
and sexually assault her because she is in a vulnerable
position. Many state laws hold that a person who
is cognitively impaired due to the influence of
drugs or alcohol is not able to consent to sexual
activity. The act of an offender who deliberately
uses alcohol as a means to subdue someone in order
to engage in non-consensual sexual activity is
Myth #4: Most sexual assaults are committed
by strangers. It's not rape if the people involved
knew each other.
Fact: Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed
by someone the victim knows. Among victims aged
18 to 29, two-thirds had a prior relationship
with the offender(1). During 2000, about six in
ten rape or sexual assault victims stated the
offender was an intimate, other relative, a friend
or an acquaintance(2). A study of sexual victimization
of college women showed that most victims knew
the person who sexually victimized them. For both
completed and attempted rapes, about 9 in 10 offenders
were known to the victim(3). Most often, a boyfriend,
ex-boyfriend, classmate, friend, acquaintance,
or co-worker sexually victimized the women(4).
Sexual assault can be committed within any type
of relationship, including in marriage, in dating
relationships, or by friends, acquaintances or
co-workers. Sexual assault can occur in heterosexual
or same-gender relationships. It does not matter
whether there is a current or past relationship
between the victim and offender; unwanted sexual
activity is still sexual assault and is a serious
Myth #5: Rape can be avoided if women avoid
dark alleys or other "dangerous" places
where strangers might be hiding or lurking.
Fact: Rape and sexual assault can occur at any
time, in many places, to anyone. According to
a report based on FBI data, almost 70% of sexual
assault reported to law enforcement occurred in
the residence of the victim, the offender, or
another individual(5). As pointed out above in
Fact #4, many rapes are committed by people known
to the victim. While prudent, avoiding dark alleys
or "dangerous" places will not necessarily
protect someone from being sexually assaulted.
Myth #6: A person who has really been sexually
assaulted will be hysterical.
Fact: Victims of sexual violence exhibit a spectrum
of responses to the assault which can include:
calm, hysteria, withdrawal, anger, apathy, denial,
and shock. Being sexually assaulted is a very
traumatic experience. Reactions to the assault
and the length of time needed to process through
the experience vary with each person. There is
no "right way" to react to being sexually
assaulted. Assumptions about a way a victim "should
act" may be detrimental to the victim because
each victim copes with the trauma of the assault
in different ways which can also vary over time.
Myth #7: All sexual assault victims will report
the crime immediately to the police. If they do
not report it or delay in reporting it, then they
must have changed their minds after it happened,
wanted revenge, or didn't want to look like they
were sexually active.
Fact: There are many reasons why a sexual assault
victim may not report the assault to the police.
It is not easy to talk about being sexually assaulted.
The experience of re-telling what happened may
cause the person to relive the trauma. Other reasons
for not immediately reporting the assault or not
reporting it at all include fear of retaliation
by the offender, fear of not being believed, fear
of being blamed for the assault, fear of being
"revictimized" if the case goes through
the criminal justice system, belief that the offender
will not be held accountable, wanting to forget
the assault ever happened, not recognizing that
what happened was sexual assault, shame, and/or
shock. In fact, reporting a sexual assault incident
to the police is the exception and not the norm.
From 1993 to 1999, about 70% of rape and sexual
assault crimes were not reported to the police(6).
Because a person did not immediately report an
assault or chooses not to report it at all does
not mean that the assault did not happen.
Victims can report a sexual assault to criminal
justice authorities at any time, whether it be
immediately after the assault or within weeks,
months, or even years after the assault. Criminal
justice authorities can move forward with a criminal
case, so long as the incident is reported within
the jurisdiction's statute of limitations. Each
state has different statutes of limitations that
apply to the crimes of rape and sexual assault.
Statutes of limitations provide for the time period
in which criminal justice authorities can charge
an individual with a crime for a particular incident.
If you have any questions about your state's statute
of limitations, you can call your local police
department, prosecutor's office, local sexual
assault victim services program, or state sexual
Myth #8: Only young, pretty women are assaulted.
Fact: The belief that only young, pretty women
are sexually assaulted stems from the myth that
sexual assault is based on sex and physical attraction.
Sexual assault is a crime of power and control
and offenders often choose people whom they perceive
as most vulnerable to attack or over whom they
believe they can assert power. Sexual assault
victims come from all walks of life. They can
range in age from the very old to the very young.
Many victims of sexual violence are under 12.
Sixty-seven percent of all victims of sexual assault
reported to law enforcement agencies were juveniles
(under the age of 18); 34% of all victims were
under age 12. One of every seven victims of sexual
assault reported to law enforcement agencies were
under age 6.(7) Men and boys are sexually assaulted.
Persons with disabilities are also sexually assaulted.
Assumptions about the "typical" sexual
assault victim may further isolate those victimized
because they may feel they will not be believed
if they do not share the characteristics of the
stereotypical sexual assault victim.
Myth #9: It's only rape if the victim puts
up a fight and resists.
Fact: Many states do not require a victim to resist
in order to charge the offender with rape or sexual
assault. In addition, there are many reasons why
a victim of sexual assault would not fight or
resist her attacker. She may feel that fighting
or resisting will make her attacker angry, resulting
in more severe injury. She may not fight or resist
as a coping mechanism for dealing with the trauma
of being sexually assaulted. Many law enforcement
experts say that victims should trust their instincts
and intuition and do what they think is most likely
to keep them alive. Not fighting or resisting
an attack does not equal consent. It may mean
it was the best way she knew how to protect herself
from further injury.
Myth #10: Someone can only be sexually assaulted
if a weapon was involved.
Fact: In many cases of sexual assault, a weapon
is not involved. The offender often uses physical
strength, physical violence, intimidation, threats,
or a combination of these tactics to overpower
the victim. As pointed out in Fact #4, most sexual
assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the
victim. An offender often uses the victim's trust
developed through their relationship to create
an opportunity to commit the sexual assault. In
addition, the offender may have intimate knowledge
about the victim's life, such as where she lives,
where she works, where she goes to school, or
information about her family and friends. This
enhances the credibility of any threats made by
the offender since he has the knowledge about
her life to carry them out. Although the presence
of a weapon while committing the assault may result
in a higher penalty or criminal charge, the absence
of a weapon does not mean that the offender cannot
be held criminally responsible for a sexual assault.
Myth #11: Rape is mostly an inter-racial crime.
Fact: The vast majority of violent crimes, which
include sexual assaults and rapes, are intra-racial,
meaning the victim and the offender are of the
same race(8). This is not true, however, for rapes
and sexual assaults committed against Native women.
American Indian victims reported that approximately
8 in 10 rapes or sexual assaults were perpetrated
by whites(9). Native women also experience a higher
rate of sexual assault victimization than any
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual
assault and would like information about help
in your area, please call your state sexual assault
coalition or local sexual assault victim services
program for referrals and information on available
1. Greenfeld, Lawrence A., Sex Offenses and
Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual
Assault, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997).
2. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Crime Characteristics:
Violent Crime - Victim/Offender Relationship
(last revised Dec. 20, 2001) <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict_c.htm>.
3. Fisher, Bonnie S., Francis T. Cullen and
Michael G. Turner, The Sexual Victimization
of College Women Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Justice, National Institute of Justice and
Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 182369 (December
5. Snyder, Howard N., Sexual Assault of Young
Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim,
Incident, and Offender Characteristics, Washington,
DC: American Statistical Association and U.S.
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,
NCJ 182990 (July 2000).
6. Rennison, Callie M., National Crime Victimization
Survey, Criminal Victimization 2000: Changes
1999-2000 with Trends 1993-2000, Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, NCJ 187007 (June 2001)
8. Rennison, Callie M., Violent Victimization
and Race, 1993-98, Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ
176354 (March 2001)
9. Greenfeld, Lawrence A. and Steven K. Smith,
American Indians and Crime, Washington, DC:
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, NCJ 173386 (February 1999)
to The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic