Myths about rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse minimise the gravity of the crimes and lessens the ability to hold perpetrators to account.

This section provides the knowledge you need to challenge commonly-held myths whenever and wherever they are encountered.

Myths about survivors

Myth: People lie about rape to save their reputation or get revenge on an ex-partner.

The truth: Research shows that false allegations of rape are rare and only represent 0.6% of the cases brought to court. A 2012 CPS report1 shows just 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape over a 17-month period compared to 5651 prosecutions for rape.

Myth: Rape does not happen to men.

The truth: Rape and sexual assault affect everyone – men, women and children as well as members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Men are more likely to be victims of rape than falsely accused of rape (2).

The Crime Survey of England and Wales (3) estimates that 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16 and that an estimated 138,000 men aged 16 to 59 experienced sexual assault in the year ending March 2017.

According to Stonewall (4), 13% of respondents to an LGBT survey had experienced unwanted sexual contact.

Myth: The survivor was not hurt nor did they fight back – so they could not have been raped.

The truth: Threat provokes humans to respond in one of five predictable: Fight; Flight; Freeze; Friend; and Flop (5). The emotional brain (the amygdala) will automatically trigger the response needed for survival.

So, if an individual cannot fight or flee – they may freeze becoming unconsciously immobile, attempt to socially engage a perpetrator or flop in a way that they submit to the perpetrator in order to stay alive.

Myth: They should not have: worn those clothes; walked that route; got in that car; taken drugs; drunk alcohol; flirted; invited them into their house and so on.

The truth: This is plain and simple victim-blaming. Perpetrators are always responsible for the choice they made to rape or sexually assault another person.

Myths about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA)

Myth: Children who are being abused would immediately tell someone.

The truth: The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in 2019 (6), found less than half of the children (42%) who experienced sexual abuse in Children’s Home and Residential Care Institutions reported it at the time. They cited fear of retribution by the institution, fear of the perpetrator and the fear of not being believed as reasons for not reporting. Of those who did report to someone in authority at the institution, most said their claims were denied, minimised or deflected.

The IICSA report (2019) (7) into Child Sexual Abuse within religious institutions found only around a third of children (32%) reported it at the time. Barriers to disclosure included the lack of a relationship with a trusted adult; feelings of shame and embarrassment; lack of education around sex and abuse; and fear of the power and influence of the religious community.

Again, where disclosures were made to a person in authority at the institution, many said that they were disbelieved, had their experiences of abuse minimised and little or no action was taken.

Children often do not tell because they are scared for themselves, their family or their pets due to threats made by the abuser; they worry they will be blamed or punished; or feel guilt or shame (Engel, 1990) (8).

Myth: Children are resilient – they will soon get over it.

The truth: Child sexual abuse has a long-term impact on a survivor’s physical health, mental health and interpersonal relationships. It is associated with later substance misuse, lower educational attainment, higher unemployment and homelessness and increased vulnerability to sexual re-victimisation (9).

There is evidence of increased suicidal behaviours in women with histories of Child Sexual Abuse (10). With the right support, children can rebuild their lives, relationships and reach their potential.

Myths about perpetrators

Myth: Perpetrators of sexual offences can easily be spotted or identified. They tend to come from certain social or racial groups.

The truth: Sexual abusers come from all walks of life. They can be friendly, charming. They are also manipulative and seek out and prey on the vulnerable. Office of National Statistics data (2020) (11) shows that in 2019, Child Sexual Abuse was most likely to have been perpetrated by a friend or acquaintance.

Myth: Women cannot commit rape or sexual abuse.

The truth: Anyone can be a perpetrator of sexual violence. According to an Office of National Statistics report (12), in 2018-19, 3.8% of all child sexual abusers including rape, were female.

Myth: Rape is most commonly committed by a stranger in the street

The truth: According to a report published by the Ministry of Justice, Home Office and Office of National Statistics (13), 90% of rapes are committed by a person known to the victim such as a friend, acquaintance, colleague, partner or ex-partner.

Myth: Rape cannot occur between spouses and partners.

The truth: In 1992, the law was extended to give protection within relationships. In 2019-20, 16% (14) of all rape prosecutions were flagged as ‘domestic abuse’ rape cases. The prevalence of women in England, Scotland and Wales sexually assaulted by an intimate partner in their lifetime (including attempted assaults) has been estimated as 14.2% (World Health Organization, 2002) (15).

“At the heart of sexual violence directed against women is gender inequality”

(WHO, 2002) (16)

Myths about consent

Myth: A person cannot be guilty of rape if they believed the complainant consented.

The truth: A person can be guilty of rape – even if they believed the person consented. The belief in the person’s consent must be ‘reasonable’. The court will assess the ‘reasonableness’ of the steps taken by the person to establish whether a complainant consented.

Myth: Once a man is sexually aroused, he cannot stop himself – he must have sex.

The truth: Rape and sexual assault are violence assaults acted out in a sexual way. They are crimes of power and control – and are not about passion or sexual gratification. The decision to rape or sexually assault is always something a person can control.

Everybody has the right to stop sexual activity at any time, no matter how far into the act they are. If a partner says to stop and a person continues, they are committing a crime.

Myth: When someone says no, they sometimes mean yes, and secretly hope to have sex.

The truth: If a partner is saying ‘no’, it must always be taken seriously. Consent must always be clear. Is someone has previously consented to sex, it does not mean they consent to sex on every occasion. Consent to one sexual act does not mean consent to other sexual acts (e.g. anal sex). Consent to sex with a condom means just that – the removal of a condom during sex removes the basis on which the consent was given.

“A person consents to sexual activity only if they agree by choice, and they have the freedom and the capacity to make that choice”

CPS, 2020

Myths about the Criminal Justice System

Myth: If the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) do not bring a charge of rape or the case is stopped before a trial, it means the complainant was lying.

The truth: The CPS decision to stop a case on evidential grounds does not mean that an allegation is false. It means that the case does not meet the evidential test required to put an allegation before a jury under the Code for Crown Prosecutors. Similarly, an acquittal does not mean the allegation was false – it means the jury were not satisfied ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the offence was committed.

Myth: The police would never issue a caution for something as serious as rape.

The truth: An Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Yorkshire Post (17) found over 80 police cautions had been issued in Yorkshire for sexual offences including rape, since 2015.

“Weak legal sanctions for sexual violence send the message that such violence is condoned”

(World Health Organization (2010) (18).

Facts and statistics:

Prevalence, recording, prosecutions and convictions

Prevalence year end 2020 (19)

773,000 sexual offences (including attempts)

139,000 rapes (including attempts)

Recorded by police year end 2020 (20)

104,091 sexual offences

58,845 rapes

Prosecutions year end 2020  (21)
8,866 sexual offences

2,102 rapes

Convictions year end 2020  (22)

7,441 sexual offences

1,439 rapes

Since 2017, the number of prosecutions for rape has dropped year on year. Rape prosecutions reached an all-time low of just 2,102 for year ending March 2020 (23) of which only 1,439 resulted in a conviction.

“The British Criminal Justice System is systematically allowing rapists to go free”

Sue Lees (2002)  (24)

Sources and references for Myths, Facts and Figures

Please click here to find the sources and references used in the Myths, Facts and Figures section.

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