A myth is a false idea that many people believe to be true. In many societies all over the world, people have believed and still believe in myths about what rape is and what causes it. In South Africa, the legal definition of rape has been changed; this means that our law courts now recognise what rape truly is, instead of upholding rape myths (false ideas). Sadly though, many men and women in our country still hold onto harmful myths about rape.
Why are rape myths so harmful?
- Myths lead people to blame women. We think that she was ‘asking to be raped’. Instead of holding the rapist responsible for the rape, we blame the victim. In court, defence lawyers can also use myths to attempt to undermine the testimony of the survivor. This can prevent justice from being done.
- Myths make people doubt what the victim says. We think that ‘she was not really raped’. This can mean that the victim does not get the support she needs from people around her. It can also make officials in the criminal justice system doubt her testimony, preventing justice from being done.
- Myths make rape survivors feel too ashamed or too guilty to report the rape or to share it with friends and family. The survivor ends up isolated and does not get the support she needs to help her recover from the trauma of the rape. Studies estimate that only one in nine survivors report rape. This means that most rapists walk freely among us, unpunished and ready to re-offend.
- Myths hide the fact that a rapist can come from any race, social class or environment. It makes us feel more distrustful or afraid of certain people based on stereotypes and prejudice, not based on the facts of the situation. It makes us believe that we can tell what makes someone a rapist when this is not the case.
- Myths make us believe that we can prevent rape from happening to us. This stops us from addressing the real sources of the problem, for example, people’s attitudes to violence and to relationships between men and women, also known as gender relations.
- Myths take away the dignity and humanity of the survivor, causing her more trauma and pain and lowering her chances of recovery. Myths also prevent many rapists from being prosecuted. It is vital that all of us in society reject these myths so that survivors may fully recover and more rapists are convicted.
- Note: Many of these myths and facts refer to rape between a man and a woman and the ideas that people have about this. It is important to realise that rape can happen between same-sex partners as well and that thinking that rape can only happen between a man and a woman is also a myth. In certain rare instances women have been known to rape men but at Rape Crisis we have found this to be the exception rather than the rule and so we base our comments on rape between a man and a woman realising that each rape is unique even as we generalise about it.
MYTH: A woman who gets drunk is inviting rape.
The truth is that both men and women sometimes get drunk – it is not a crime to drink, it is a crime to rape.
TRUTH: A person that is too drunk might be incapable of consenting to sex; sex without consent is rape.
MYTH: It’s not rape if a woman wears revealing clothing because then she wants sex.
Sex without consent is always rape, no matter what the circumstances. Just because a woman wears a short skirt or a revealing top does not always mean that she is sending out a signal that she is available for sex. A woman always has the right to choose if, when and with whom she has sex.
TRUTH: When a woman wears revealing clothes she is not actively consenting to sex – she must still be able to deny her consent to sex if she chooses to.
MYTH: Women who wear revealing clothing invite men to rape them.
Appearance and clothing have nothing to do with who gets raped. Women are raped no matter what they wear: babies in nappies, old women in tracksuits and nuns in habits also get raped.
TRUTH: Clothing does not determine who gets raped.
MYTH: Rapists are always strangers in the dark.
The truth is that most rapes occur between people who know each other. A person is much more likely to be raped by a family member, relation or friend than by a stranger.
TRUTH: Rapists are mostly known to the survivor.
MYTH: It’s not rape if the woman has given her consent to having sex with the man before.
If a woman consents to sex once, that does not mean the man has a right to have sex with her anytime from now on.
TRUTH: Both people need to consent to sex every time.
MYTH: It’s not rape if the woman and man are married or in a relationship.
The truth in South Africa is that a husband or boyfriend may never force his wife or girlfriend to have sex with him. If he does, he can be charged with rape. A woman has to give consent for sex, every time.
TRUTH: In any relationship, a woman has the right to say no to sex.
MYTH: Sex workers can’t be raped.
The truth is that sex workers have the same right to refuse sex as anyone else. They are paid for consensual sex, not rape. They choose with whom to do business.
TRUTH: Sex workers also have to consent to sex.
MYTH: Women say they have been raped to get revenge on a man.
The truth is that women very rarely do this, as reporting rape to the authorities and going through a rape trial are very traumatic. It takes a lot of courage to report a rape and go through with a rape trial. Other people often make rape victims feel ashamed or guilty about the rape, which makes it even less likely that a woman would lie about rape. Statistics show that number of false reports of rape is the same as any other crime.
TRUTH: People lie about all crimes, not just rape. The number of people that lie about being the victim of a crime is very small.
MYTH: A woman who withdraws rape charges was never raped in the first place.
Women who withdraw rape charges mostly do this because the people around them pressurise them to do so. This can happen, for example, if the rapist is the breadwinner of the family, if the family fears a scandal or if they fear revenge by the rapist’s friends and family. Rape victims are often intimidated into dropping charges.
TRUTH: If a woman withdraws a rape charge, it doesn’t mean she was lying.
MYTH: It can only be called rape if there is sexual intercourse.
South African law defines rape very clearly. It does not only involve a penis into a vagina.
TRUTH: Rape is when a person puts any body part or object into another person’s anus or vagina, or genital organs into the mouth of another person.
MYTH: If the victim gets sexually aroused or has an orgasm during the rape, it means she enjoyed it.
Although this sometimes happens, it does not mean the survivor enjoyed it. It can, in fact, make the rape more traumatic.
TRUTH: The stress of the rape can cause the body to respond in a sexual way automatically.
MYTH: A woman can prevent rape if she tries hard enough.
The truth is that most men are stronger than most women. But force is often not necessary, as men can use emotional manipulation, weapons or threats on the victim’s life to get a woman to comply.
TRUTH: A woman cannot do anything to prevent the rape from happening.
MYTH: Respectable women don’t get raped. Promiscuous women invite rape.
The truth is that there is no type of woman who gets raped: women of all ages and social positions get raped. The lifestyle and personality of the victim have nothing to do with getting raped. The rapist is to blame.
TRUTH: Rape can happen to any type of person.
MYTH: A woman is asking to get raped if she goes into an unsafe area, such as a bad neighbourhood or a bar.
The truth is that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted in their own homes or in places familiar to them than anywhere else.
TRUTH: A woman can be raped anywhere, even in her own home.
MYTH: Rapists are mentally ill madmen or are sex starved.
The truth is that only very few rapists are mentally ill. Most rapists are not sex-starved – they are mostly men who act responsibly at work and at home with their families.
TRUTH: You cannot tell a rapist from a man who does not rape .
MYTH: Rape mostly involves black men raping white women.
TRUTH: Most rapes occur between people of the same race; in fact, more white men rape black women than black men rape white women.
MYTH: Gay men and lesbians deserve to be raped.
Some people believe that homosexuality is unnatural and that it can be ‘cured’ through heterosexual rape. The truth is that rapists use rape as a weapon to harm and intimidate people who do not live according to the rapist’s own way of life. It is illegal to victimise gay men and lesbians in this way.
TRUTH: No one deserves to be raped.
MYTH: Men rape for sex.
The truth is that rape is not only about relieving sexual desire. It is about gaining power and control over another person. A rapist gets satisfaction by humiliating and controlling his victim and uses sex as the tool to do this.
TRUTH: Rape is more about having power over someone than about sex.
MYTH: Once a man is sexually excited, he cannot stop.
The truth is that all men and women sometimes get sexually excited and want it to lead to sex. But we can all choose to stop and wait for the feeling to subside.
TRUTH: We all have control over our choices and our bodies. Rapists choose not to stop.
MYTH: Women dream or fantasise about rape and will enjoy it if it happens.
The truth is that some women may think about being raped, but in no way do they wish it to happen. They can control fantasising and can stop when they choose, but they have no control when they are raped.
TRUTH: No one wants to be raped.
MYTH: Women say ‘no’ when they mean ‘yes’.
In some cultures, a woman is expected to be coy and to not ‘welcome’ sexual advances. But this does NOT mean that a man can ignore it if a woman says ‘no’. A man must always be very sure that the woman consents.
TRUTH: When a woman says ‘no’, it means ‘no’.
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