Sexual Assault: Dispelling the Myths
MYTH: Sexual assault is not a common problem.
FACT: Sexual assault is experienced by Canadian women every day – at home, at work, at school and on the street.
The Violence Against Women Survey found that over one half (51%) of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault or physical violence and of these all most 60% were the target of more than one incident. Research has found that 40% of women with disabilities have been assaulted, raped or abused. Further, it is estimated that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
MYTH: The problem is not really violence against “women.” Women are just as violent as men.
FACT: In about 90% of cases of domestic assaults, the man is the perpetrator. This may be uncomfortable but it is true.
MYTH: Sexual assault is most often committed by strangers.
FACT: Women face the greatest risk of sexual assault from men they know, not strangers.
A 1998 study found that 33% of female victims of sexual assault age 18 and over were assaulted by a friend or a casual acquaintance; 25% by a family member (including a spouse or ex-spouse). When a woman knows the man who sexually assaults her, it is less likely that it will be recognized as a crime, even by her. These sexual assaults are no less a crime than those that are committed by strangers.
MYTH: The best way for a woman to protect herself from sexual assault is to avoid being alone at night in dark, deserted places, such as alleys or parking lots.
FACT: 80% of sexual assaults occur in the home and 49% of sexual assaults occur in broad daylight.
Most sexual assaults do not fit the ‘stranger-in-a-dark-alley’ stereotype. Currently, there is a trend towards non-consensual drug-induced sexual assaults.
MYTH: Women who are sexually assaulted “ask for it” by the way they dress or act.
FACT: The idea that women “ask for it” is often used by offenders to rationalize their behaviour.
It also blames the victim for the crime, not the offender. Victims of sexual assault report a wide range of dress and actions at the time of the assault. Any woman of any age and physical type, in almost any situation, can be sexually assaulted. If a woman is sexually assaulted, it is not her fault. No woman ever “asks” or deserves to be sexually assaulted. Whatever a woman wears, wherever she goes, whomever she talks to, “no” means “no”. It’s the law. A drug-induced sexual assault is non-consensual and therefore also means “no”.
MYTH: Domestic violence is usually an isolated incident.
FACT: Violence is a pattern of behaviour that exists in some relationships and develops worse and more frequent over time.
MYTH: If women really wanted to leave a violent relationship, they would.
FACT: Abused women leaving their partners are faced with the reality of severe physical assault or even death.
Abusers may isolate their partners, depriving them of jobs, educational opportunities while maintaining control. This combined with unequal opportunities for women make it difficult for a woman to leave.
MYTH: It’s only sexual assault if physical violence or weapons are used.
FACT: The Criminal Code definition of sexual assault includes a number of acts ranging from unwanted sexual touching, to sexual violence resulting in wounding, maiming or endangering the life of the victim.
Most sexual assaults are committed by a man known to the victim. The man is likely to use verbal pressure, tricks, such as administering drugs without the victim’s consent, and/or threats during an assault.
MYTH: Unless she is physically harmed, a sexual assault victim will not suffer any long-term effects.
FACT: Any sexual assault can have serious effects on women’s health and well-being.
A Canadian survey found that nine out of ten incidents of violence against women have an emotional effect on the victim. Women who have been sexually assaulted feel anger, fear and can become more cautious and less trusting. Women who have experienced a history of victimization are at high risk for developing lifetime mental health problems. It is estimated that 30% of sexually assaulted women contemplate suicide.
MYTH: Women cannot be sexually assaulted by their husbands or boyfriends.
FACT: 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. Women experience long-term negative effects of partner sexual assault and the traumatic consequences of the sexual assault may even be more significant than those of non-partner sexual assault.