The Myths and Truths about Rape


Sexual Assault (or rape) is a huge problem all over the world. Not all people know what Sexual Assault is, why it happens, and how to protect themselves. I am going to write two articles on the subject: Female Sexual Assault and Male Sexual Assault. Many people believe that Sexual Assault is black and white, that it only happens late at night in dark alleys and that it’s always a stranger. I will also attempt to prove these, and many other myths, wrong.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual Assault is defined as *ANY* unwanted sexual contact or attentionmay it be physical or non physical (i.e. harassment, kissing, intercourse)achieved by force, threats, bribes, manipulation, pressure, tricks, or violence. In almost every instance, it is an act of power and control and sex is the weapon.

It is also believe that the definition encompasses any unwanted sexual act, even if there was no violence involved other then the act itself. Even if there were no threats or implied threats but the sexual contact was unwanted, it is still sexual assault.

What is the definition of Consent?

“Consent is defined as a voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question.” (Criminal Code of Canada, Section 273.1)

Consent is NOT given if:
– Consent is given by someone other then the participant
– The participant is unable to consent (i.e. unconscious, impaired by alcohol or drugs, or sleeping)
– It is obtained through the abuse of power, trust or authority
– The participant says no, does not say yes, or through their behavior, implies that they do not want to participate, or
– The participant changed his/her mind

Those accused of sexual assault cannot use, as their defense, that:
– The accused believed consent was given because he/she was intoxicated, were reckless or willfully blind, or
– Due to circumstances, the accused did not take reasonable steps to obtain consent.

What about for minors?

There are special considerations when minors are involved:
– Children under the age of 12 are NEVER able to consent to sexual activity.
– Children aged 12-14 are deemed unable to consent to sexual acts EXCEPT under specific circumstances involving sexual activity with their peers. For example: “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”
– Young persons aged 14-18 are protected from sexual exploitation and their consent is not valid if the person touching them for a sexual purpose is in a position of trust or authority over them, or if they are in a relationship of dependency with that person.
– The age of consent for anal intercourse taking place in private between consenting individuals is 18, unless they are married to each other.

It is not a defense for those accused of sexual assault, interference, or abuse to say that they believed that the young person was older.


“I heard that Sexual Assault is motivated by sex. Is this true?”

No. While sexual activity is used in sexual assault, it is NOT the motivator for the perpetrator; it is the tool (or the weapon) chosen by the perpetrator to get power. What better way to humiliate and control someone than making them do something sexually, that they do not want to do?

To expand on this, rapists, who were in prison, were asked to give a list of reasons why they raped someone. Not once did they answer “sex” as the reason for rape.

However, again, this isn’t 100% true. There are instances when the man is coming on to a woman, for sexual reasons, and there is no force, but she is uninterested and unable to express her lack of interest with words, and he just doesn’t see her lack of interest. He is not purposely raping her; he just can’t see that she’s not interested. It’s still rape, though not as clearly defined.

“Only women are sexually assaulted, right?”

While increased education on sexual assault has made people aware that both men and boys can be sexually assaulted, many people still consider sexual assault to be a “woman’s” issue. Men are perceived as being bigger, stronger, and therefore, more able to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted. However, men, like women, can be sexually assaulted with the use of coercion, threats, fear, and other non-physical means. Also, men are most often sexually assaulted by other men, and they may not always be stronger then their perpetrator. The current FBI statistics indicate that one in eight men is sexually assaulted at one point in their lifetime.

Some people also assume that men always want sex; therefore, it is impossible to sexually assault a man. This is untrue. Men have the right to decide with whom and when they want to engage in sexual activityand like women; they can have many reasons why they wouldn’t want to engage in sexual activity with a particular person.

Some men who have been sexually assaulted are concerned that they somehow consented or wanted the sexual activity because their body responded during the sexual assault; they may have had an erection or ejaculated during the assault. This is a normal physiological reaction for a male to have when he is stimulated; when the genitals are touched they may respond whether the touch is wanted or not.

“If a person is sexually assaulted when s/he is drunk, s/he is at least somewhat responsible for letting things get out of control.”

The only person responsible for the sexual assault is the perpetrator. Some people often blame the survivors for the assaults because they were drinking and suggest that they should not drink in the future to avoid being assaulted again. However, not drinking will not guarantee that one won’t be sexually assaulted.

The Criminal Code of Canada outlines that a person cannot consent to sexual activity if s/he is incapacitated, and being drunk is considered to be incapacitated. Drunken consensual sex does happen, but it is not the same thing as sexual assault involving alcohol. In drunken consensual sex, both partners are able to consent because they are not completely incapacitated by the alcohol. In sexual assault involving alcohol, the person being assaulted may be passed out or very incapacitated, or if s/he is awake s/he is showing other forms of non-consent like freezing, turning away, or saying no.

Some people believe, when alcohol was involved, that if the perpetrator was drunk, then he/she probably did not realize that what he/she was doing was wrong, and not responsible for the assault. Sexual assault is like any other crimethe perpetrator is the one responsible for the assault, whether he/she was drinking or not. You wouldn’t say a mugger wasn’t responsible because he/she was drunk, why would you say that about a rapist?

“People who are sexually assaulted ask for it’ by the way they dress or act.”

Sexual assault is motivated by the desire for power and control; it makes no difference what that person is wearing. The idea that people who are assaulted “ask for it” is often used by offenders to rationalize their behavior. It also blames the victim for the crime, not the offender.

There are survivors of sexual assault ranging from infants to the elderly. Obviously, in these situations provocative clothing is not a factor in sexual assault. I mean, how many grandmothers and little children do you see wearing mini skirts? And if a little girl did, would you say she was “asking” to be raped? I doubt it. So what makes a grown woman any different?

It also gives us a false sense of security in thinking, “if I don’t dress that way, I won’t be sexually assaulted.” Whatever the woman wears, wherever she goes, whomever she talks to, “no” means “no.” It’s the law.

“I’ve heard that many sexual assault survivors are actually women who had sex, changed their minds’ afterwards, and then charged the guy with sexual assault.”

Women rarely make false reports about sexual assault; in fact, sexual assault is an enormously under-reported crime. According to Statistics Canada, only 6% of all sexual assaults are reported to the police. False allegations of sexual assault are rare because of how difficult it is to report a sexual assault, let alone one that did not happen.

Recognizing that the chances of false accusations are minimal, it is important to believe someone when they tell us about a sexual assault experience. Survivors who have a positive experience of telling someone about their sexual assault are more likely to be able to move forward in their recovery process.

“Yeah, well, if she had wanted to get away, she would have fought back or screamed.”

During a traumatic experience, people are shocked by what they are experiencing. For this reason, people may react in a variety of ways. A survey of Unwanted Sexual Experience Amongst University of Alberta students reported that during their sexual assaults 49% of survivors physically struggled, 49% froze or turned cold, 42% did nothing, and 55% zoned out during the assault (obviously, due to the math, some did more then one of the options). During sexual assault, survivor’s reactions will be influenced by many factors such as their relationship with the perpetrator, actual or implied threats, concerns about involving other people, etc. Each individual will consciously or subconsciously consider their situation and do the best they can to protect themselves or someone else.

In some cases, screaming and fighting back wouldn’t do any good because there was no one around to help. Further, fighting back can increase the level of violence of the assault rather than stopping it. As well, most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor; as such they may not fight back because they are in shock that someone they trusted is hurting them.

The use of coercion, verbal pressure, tricks and/or threats during an assault may be another reason why the survivor may not have screamed or fought back. For example, if the perpetrator is their partner and says things like “if you love me, you will have sex with me,” or “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me.” According to the legal definition of sexual assault, consent must be voluntarily given, and consent is not considered to be given if compliance is gained through pressure, coercion, force, or threats of force.

“Aren’t women assaulted by strangers who hide in dark alleys?”

Of the women who are sexually assaulted, most (69%) are sexually assaulted by men known to them: dates, boyfriends, marital partners, friends, family members or neighbors.

Most sexual assaults (60%) occur in a private home and the largest percentage of these (38%) occurs in the victim’s home. Under the law, women have the right to say no to any form of sex, even in a marriage or dating relationship. The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women found that 38% of sexually assaulted women were assaulted by their husbands, common-law partners or boyfriends.

Although sexual assault within relationships has been illegal in Canada since 1983, few women report such incidents to police.

“Sure, sexual assault is traumatic, but a survivor should be over it in a few months.”

It is very common for survivors to feel affected by their sexual assault for years after the experience. Further, sexual assault can have serious affects on women’s health and well-being. Women who have been sexually assaulted feel anger, fear, and can become more cautious and less trusting.

Fortunately, with time the sexual assault will not affect them as greatly and eventually, they will be able to incorporate the experience into their life in such a way that the experience is not controlling their lives, but it is a small part of it.

Each survivor’s recovery process is individual, unique and follows its own timeline.