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Rape Myths

By, Kylisha Boyd

There are three categories of rape myths: myths about the assault, myths about the victim, and myths in relation to the offender. Some examples of myths about an assault include: “He couldn't stop once he started (biological urge)”, “Most rapes are perpetuated by a stranger”, and “Men cannot be raped”. Other myths about the victim include “She was asking for it by the way she was dressed”, or “She/he didn't fight back so he/she must have wanted it”. Myths related to the offender include: “Men who rape other men are homosexual” “Women cannot rape (the offender is not homosexual so he could not have raped a man),” and “Most rapists are insane (therefore he/she couldn't have done something like that).

These myths are commonly used by defense attorneys. There are rape shield laws in place to protect the survivor and regulate the extent that these myths can be used however, the laws do not eliminate what a person believes. In some circumstances a judge may allow a defense attorney to explore some of these myths if it is deemed relevant to the charges. Lynn Schafran wrote about the stereotypical narrative of sexual assault,

“…rape is an infrequent crime in which a degenerate, sex-starved, knife-wielding stranger jumps from the bushes to attack a blameless, nubile young woman. After the rape, the woman reports immediately to the police and is then admitted to the hospital for treatment of her savage physical injuries, sustained while resisting to the utmost. But in reality, the vast majority of rapes are nothing like the stereotype (Schafran, Lynn H., n.d.).”

Potential members of a jury may also hold these views independent of any influence by the defense and without disclosing them during jury selection. In addition, survivors, family members, and friends may also hold these views. Depending on the culture or worldview, a person may not be willing to accept that there is not a valid justification for a sexual assault. Survivors must remember that there are no circumstances or reasons that a person can cause, create, or fall subject to, that will lead to justifying sexual contact without consent.

Rape myths are only part of the equation. Assuming a survivor has reported the assault, there are other issues with getting past the investigation, Court Martial, conviction, and finally appeals. Assuming these myths have been set aside, they can still be used to stop a case in its tracks even when the evidence is undeniable. The myths are used, for example, to protect high ranking members, to protect the unit, and to minimize the full extent of a widespread problem. This is not to say that everyone involved in the response is guilty of blocking progress because it only takes one person with enough rank or influence to derail a case.

It is also important to understand that decisions are in consideration of everything previously discussed. An investigator may believe a survivor but lack the evidence to recommend charges. Likewise, a prosecutor might believe the survivor and believe the evidence is sufficient, but not have faith that a judge or jury will see past the circumstances i.e. myths. Finally, a judge and/or jury may convict only to have the appeal sent to a final decision maker who believes in some of these myths and decides to overturn. This is all assuming the case makes it past the initial report and is deemed worthy of investigation.

By now you might be asking “why even report?”. The decision to report is a personal one and should not be made without consideration. There are pros and cons that can only be weighed by each individual. The pros include: getting “justice”, prolonging/preventing future assaults, regaining control, and helping to expose the truth. The cons include: long process, not being believed, re-traumatization, possible retaliation and/or damage to reputation, and possible disciplinary action. There is no right or wrong way to proceed.

Schafran, Lynn H. (n.d.) Barriers to Credibility: Understanding and Countering Rape Myths


Whether you choose to pursue justice or not, make sure you take care of yourself in the midst of it all. Sexual assault is life-changing. You must remember to nurture your soul through mental health therapy, doing the things that made you happy prior to the assault, and spending time with people who build you up rather than bring you down. In order to break free from the devastation that was done to you, you must remember to take care of yourself.

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