Consent

Myths & Truths

Myths & Truths

MYTH: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. The best way to protect oneself is to be wary of strangers in public.

TRUTH: About 85-90% of college women reported knowing the offender prior to the assault [1]. Sexual assault can be committed within any type of relationship, including in marriage, in dating relationships, or by friends, acquaintances or co-workers. Sexual assault can occur in heterosexual or same-gender relationships. It does not matter whether there is a current or past relationship between the victim and offender; unwanted sexual activity is still sexual assault and is a serious crime.

MYTH: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.

TRUTH: Sexual assault can happen to anyone. Male students between the ages 18-24 are 78% more likely than their non-student counterparts to be survivor/victim of sexual assault or rape [2]. These assaults can occur in both herterosexual and LGBTQ+ relationships.

MYTH: Dressing provocatively and/or acting in a promiscuous manner provokes sexual assaults. People should know that behaving this way puts themselves at risk.

TRUTH: The survivor is never to blame for the sexual assault— the blame is always on the offender. Clothing is not a form of consent. This “assumption of risk” wrongfully places the responsibility of the offender’s actions with the survivor. Voluntarily dancing with someone and/or flirting with someone, for example, is not a blanket consent to further sexual activity.

MYTH: Consent to one form of sexual activity is consent to all following forms. If someone consents to sexual activity on one occasion, that means they consent to sexual activities on another occasion.

TRUTH: Consent to one form of sexual activity is only consent to that form. Each step requires communication and that partners ask whether they are comfortable moving forward with the elevated level of sexual activity.

MYTH: If a survivor chooses to report to the police, they must undergo the entire process at once— they cannot walk away for awhile and come back when ready.

TRUTH: There are many different options for a survivor in the reporting process. A survivor can make an anonymous report without pursuing any further investigation. This can be cathartic while also allowing the survivor’s voice be heard via statistics. The survivor may also choose to undergo a SART exam (a rape kit) and stop there. How fast and how far in the process the survivor wants to go is up to the survivor. Sometimes survivors choose to file a report and undergo a SART exam and then put the investigation on hold until they are ready. This can be weeks, month, or years later. This allows the evidence to be collected so that when or if the survivor ever wants to pursue further, there is physical evidence. Survivors can report a sexual assault to criminal justice authorities at any time, whether it be immediately after the assault or within weeks, months, or even years after the assault. There are no statute of limitations on prosecuting rape cases in California as of January 1, 2017 [3]. A survivor may also choose to not report at all. The entire process is up to the survivor.

MYTH: Someone who is really sexually assaulted would be distraught.

TRUTH: Survivors of sexual violence exhibit a spectrum of responses to the assault which can include: calm, hysteria, withdrawal, anger, apathy, denial, and shock. Being sexually assaulted is a very traumatic experience. Reactions to the assault and the length of time needed to process through the experience vary with each person. There is no “right way” to react to being sexually assaulted. Assumptions about a way a victim “should act” may be detrimental to the survivor because each survivor copes with the trauma of the assault in different ways which can also vary over time.

MYTH: Someone who is really sexually assaulted and/or sexually harassed would never talk to the perpetrator the next day.

TRUTH: There are many reasons why a survivor might maintain a relationship with someone who has assaulted them. The survivor might feel their safety would be threatened if they end the relationship. The survivor may be unable to avoid the perpetrator if they live together, work together, are in class together, or have the same social circles— or the survivor might still be defining and trying to understand what’s happened to them. Because many survivors knew the perpetrator before being assaulted, survivors may be trying to negotiate the conflicting thoughts and feelings they have about their perpetrator. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience, and one common reaction to the overwhelming thoughts and feelings of trauma is to attempt to forget that the situation happened and to move on. Survivors often feel social pressure to act like everything is okay, regardless of what they actually feel. The important thing to remember is that people cope with traumatic incidents in different ways.

MYTH: Sexual assault happens when people drink too much. If people drank less, rates of sexual assault would plummet.

TRUTH: The consumption of alcohol does not cause sexual assault. Perpetrators, however, often use alcohol or other drugs as a means to facilitate assault. Like other criminal offenses, sexual assault is often an opportunistic crime, and perpetrators often take the survivor’s incapacitation as an opportunity to commit violence. Additionally, perpetrators often use their own substance use as a strategy for relinquishing responsibility. Like other crimes, however, being drunk when committing sexual assault does not absolve a person of responsibility. Whether or not a person is drunk, the person initiating sexual activity must always have clear and unambiguous consent to do so.

MYTH: Someone who is really sexually assaulted and/or harassed would report to offense immediately after.

TRUTH: There are many reasons why a sexual assault survivor may not report the assault to the police. It is not easy to talk about being sexually assaulted. The experience of re-telling what happened may cause the person to relive the trauma. Other reasons for not immediately reporting the assault or not reporting it at all include fear of retaliation by the offender, fear of not being believed, fear of being blamed for the assault, fear of being “revictimized” if the case goes through the criminal justice system, belief that the offender will not be held accountable, wanting to forget the assault ever happened, not recognizing that what happened was sexual assault, shame, and/or shock. In fact, reporting a sexual assault incident to the police is the exception and not the norm. From 1993 to 1999, about 70% of rape and sexual assault crimes were not reported to the police [4]. Because a person did not immediately report an assault or chooses not to report it at all does not mean that the assault did not happen.

MYTH: It’s only sexually assault or rape if the person fights back and resists.

TRUTH: Many states, including California, do not require a survivor to resist in order to charge the offender with rape or sexual assault. There are many reasons why a survivor of sexual assault would not fight or resist the attacker. The survivor may feel that fighting or resisting will make her attacker angry, resulting in more severe injury. The survivor may not fight or resist as a coping mechanism for dealing with the trauma of being sexually assaulted. Many law enforcement experts say that survivors should trust their instincts and intuition and do what they think is most likely to keep them alive. Not fighting or resisting an attack does not equal consent. It may mean it was the best way the survivor knew how to protect themself from further injury.

MYTH: It cannot be sexual assault or rape if the person was silent. The person could have said “no” or “stop” but chose not to.

TRUTH: In 2014, California Governor Brown passed a bill which requires that all parties give affirmative consent in order for the sexual activity to be considered consensual. Affirmative consent is an affirmative, a conscious, and a voluntary agreement to the sexual activity. “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent” [5]. In other words, consent is not the absence of a “no,” is the presence of a “yes.” Affirmative consent is not just good practice, it is legally required. If affirmative consent is not given by all parties, the sexual activity was not consensual.

MYTH: Most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men of color against white women.

TRUTH: The vast majority of violent crimes, which include sexual assaults and rapes, are intraracial, meaning the survivor and the offender are of the same race [6]. This is not true, however, for rapes and sexual assaults committed against Native women. American Indian survivors reported that approximately 8 in 10 rapes or sexual assaults were perpetrated by whites. Native women also experience a higher rate of sexual assault victimization than any other race [7].

Footnotes

[1] National Institute of Justice. 2018. “Sexual Assault on Campus: Most Victims Know Their Attacker.”
[2] RAINN. n.d. “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.”
[3] Kennedy, Merrit. 2016. “California Eliminates Statute Of Limitations On Rape Cases.” NPR.
[4] Rennison, Callie Marie. 2000. “Criminal Victimization 1999: Changes 1998-99 with Trends 1993-99.” U.S. Department of Justice.
[5] California Senate Bill No. 967: Chapter 748.
[6] Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2001. “Differences in Rates of Violent Crime Experienced by Whites and Blacks Narrow.”
[7] Greenfeld, Lawrence A. and Steven K. Smith. 1999. “American Indians and Crime.” U.S. Department of Justice.