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Sexual Violence: Common Myths and Facts

Myth: 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 behaviors 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: Most reports of sexual assault are false.
Fact: False reports of sexual assault do not occur any more than false reports of any other crime. According to the FBI, only about 2% of rape reports are false. In addition, rape is one of the most underreported crimes.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are spontaneous acts of passion, where the assailant cannot control him/herself.
Fact: Rape is a premeditated act of violence, not a spontaneous act of passion. Most perpetrators are motivated by power, anger and control, not passion or attraction. In fact, most perpetrators are serial offenders.

Myth: If a person goes to someone’s room or house or goes to a bar, s/he assumes the risk of sexual assault. If something happens later, s/he can’t claim that s/he was raped or sexually assaulted because s/he should have known not to go to those places. 
Fact: This “assumption of risk” wrongfully places the responsibility of the offender’s action with the victim. Even if a person went voluntarily to someone’s home or room, that does not mean they have consented to sexual activity.

Myth: Once someone consents to some kind of sexual activity, it is OK to continue to another level of sexual activity. Males cannot stop in the middle of sexual activity. 
Fact: Even if a person consented to engage in some sexual activity, it does not serve as blanket consent for all sexual activity. Sexual activity forced upon another without valid consent is sexual assault.

Myth: It is 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 sexual activity. A person under the influence does not cause others to assault her/him; others choose to take advantage of the situation and sexually assault her/him because s/he is in a vulnerable position. A person who is incapacitated due to the influence of alcohol or drugs is not able to consent to sexual activity.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. It’s not rape if the people involved know each other.
Fact: Most sexual assaults and rape are committed by someone the victim knows. A study of sexual victimization of college women showed that about 90% of victims knew the person who sexually victimized them. Most often, a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, classmate, friend, acquaintance or co-worker sexually victimized the person. It is important to remember that sexual assault can occur in both heterosexual and same-gender relationships.

Myth: 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. The majority of sexual assaults take place in the home of the victim, the perpetrator or a friend.

Myth: A person who has really been sexually assaulted will be hysterical. If s/he is not hysterical, the assault didn’t really happen.
Fact: There is no "right way" to react to being sexually assaulted. Victims of sexual violence exhibit a spectrum of responses to the assault which can include: calm, hysteria, withdrawal, anxiety, anger, apathy, denial and shock. Being sexually assaulted is a very traumatic experience. Reaction to the assault and the length of time needed to process through the experience vary with each person.

Myth: All sexual assault victims will report the crime immediately to the police. If they do not report it or delay in reporting it, it is a false allegation. They must have changed their minds after having sex, 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 or campus officials. It is not easy to talk about being sexually assaulted and can feel very shameful. The experience of retelling what happened may cause the person to relive the trauma. Another reason for delaying a report or not making a report is the fear of retaliation by the offender. There is also the fear of being blamed, not being believed and being required to go through court proceedings. Just because a person does not report the sexual assault does not mean it did not happen.

Myth: 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. Offenders often choose people whom they perceive as most vulnerable to attack or over whom they believe they can assert power. Men and boys are also sexually assaulted, as well as persons with disabilities.

Myth: It’s only rape if the victim puts up a fight and resists.
Fact: Victims are not required to resist in order to charge the offender with rape or sexual assault. Those who do not resist may feel if they do so, they will anger their attacker, resulting in more severe injury. Many assault experts say that victims should trust their instincts and intuition and do what they believe will most likely keep them alive. Not fighting or resisting an attack does not equal consent.

Myth: 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. 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.

Adapted from the California State University Long Beach Office of Equity and Diversity.

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Sexual Harassment: Common Myths and Facts

Myth: Sexual harassment is rare.
Fact: Sexual harassment is extremely widespread. It touches the lives of 40 to 60 percent of working women, and similar proportions of female students in colleges and universities.

Myth: Sexual harassment only happens to women and is perpetrated only by men.
Fact: Both men and women can be victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment. In addition, sexual harassment may occur between members of the same sex.

Myth: The seriousness of sexual harassment has been exaggerated; most so-called harassment is really trivial and harmless flirtation.
Fact: Sexual harassment can be devastating. Studies indicate that most harassment has nothing to do with "flirtation" or sincere sexual or social interest. Rather, it is offensive, often frightening and insulting. Research shows that survivors are often forced to leave school or jobs to avoid harassment; may experiences serious psychological and health-related problems.

Myth: Many victims make up and report stories of sexual harassment to get back at their employers or others who have angered them. 
Fact: Research shows that less than one percent of complaints are false. In fact, survivors rarely file complaints even when they are justified in doing so.

Myth: Women who are sexually harassed generally provoke harassment by the way they look, dress and behave. 
Fact: Harassment does not occur because women dress provocatively or initiate sexual activity in the hope of getting promoted and advancing their careers. Studies have found that victims of sexual harassment vary in physical appearance, type of dress, age, and behavior. The only thing they have in common is that over 99% of them are female.

Myth: If you ignore harassment, it will go away.
Fact: It will not. Research has shown that simply ignoring the behavior is ineffective; harassers generally will not stop on their own. Ignoring such behavior may even be seen as agreement or encouragement.

Source: University of Oregon Counseling & Testing Center.

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Sexual Harassment vs. Flirting

Sexual harassment makes the receiver feel: Flirting makes the receiver feel:
Bad Good
Angry/sad Happy
Demeaned Flattered
Ugly Pretty/attractive
Powerless In control
Sexual harassment results in: Flirting results in:
Negative self-esteem Positive self-esteem
Sexual harassment is perceived as: Flirting is perceived as:
One-sided Reciprocal
Demeaning Flattering
Degrading Open
Invading Complimentary
Sexual harassment is: Flirting is:
Unwanted Wanted
Power-motivated Equally-motivated
Illegal Legal

Source: OSU Office of Student Life, Student Wellness Center.

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What Can You Do If You Are Harassed?

There is no one way to respond to harassment. Every situation is different and only you can evaluate the problem and decide on the best response.

Friends, affirmative action officers, human resource professionals and advocates can offer information, advice and support, but only you can decide what is right for you. The only thing you can be absolutely certain of is that ignoring the situation will not cause it to go away. Above all, DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF FOR THE HARASSMENT. It is not your fault. Place the blame where it belongs — on the harasser. Self-blame can cause depression and will not help you or the situation.

Many people have found these strategies effective:

  • Say NO to the harasser. Be direct.
  • Write a letter to the harasser. Describe the incident and how it made you feel. State that you would like the harassment to stop. Send the letter by certified mail. Keep a copy. Or send it via email with a read receipt. Tell the harasser not to respond to that email.
  • Keep a log of what happened and when. Include dates, times, places, names of persons involved and witnesses, and who said what to whom.
  • Tell someone; don't keep it to yourself. By being quiet about the harassment, you don't help stop it. Chances are extremely good that you aren't the only victim of your harasser. Speaking up can be helpful in finding support and in protecting others from being victims.
  • Seek assistance from the resources on this website. Find out what the procedure is at your college; it is the college's responsibility to provide you with advice, help and support, but such meetings at the workplace can provide an important record if legal action is ever advisable.
  • If you are a union member, speak to your union representative. Unions are generally very committed to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • If you are experiencing severe psychological distress, you may want to consult a psychologist or other mental health professional who understands the problems caused by sexual harassment.

Reprinted and adapted from the Journal of the American Psychological Association.

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