Misconceptions downplay the seriousness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and confuse the definition of consent. They also contribute to a social atmosphere in which people who are affected by these acts are reluctant to report, either because they fear being blamed for what happened to them (a phenomenon known as "victim blaming"), or they are not believed. These misconceptions also shift the responsibility and blame from the perpetrator to the survivor.
The survivor was "asking for it."
Fact: Sexual assault or harassment is not the survivor’s fault. A person's outfit or actions are not an invitation to sexual assault or harassment. The only person responsible for a sexual assault or harassment is the person who commits the act. Blaming the survivor is known as victim blaming.
If a person chooses not to report their assault, it must not have really happened.
Fact: Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada. Many barriers to reporting exist, including but not limited to: not being believed, feeling humiliated, fear of retaliation by the offender and of re-victimization in the legal process, fear of reaction by their social networks. It is important to recognize that every individual affected by sexual assault may choose to report or not. Their decision has no bearing on the truth of their experience.
Sexual assault is often perpetrated by strangers.
Fact: Sexual assault is typically not perpetrated by strangers. Studies show that over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the person, such as a friend, partner, service provider, neighbour or family member.
If it really happened, the survivor should be able to easily recount all of the facts of their experience.
Fact: Shock, fear, embarrassment and distress can all impair memory. Additionally, many people who have experienced a traumatic event actively attempt to minimize or forget the details as a coping technique.
Survivors lie about being sexually assaulted.
Fact: The reality is that sexual assault is extremely underreported. Most people fear not being believed, shamed, or judged for what has happend to them. From the statistics that are available, *false accusations of sexual assault happen no more than false reports of other types of crime: about 2% to 4% of the time, which means 96% to 98% of the reports are true.
*Brennan, S. & Taylor-Butts, A. (2008). Sexual Assault in Canada, 2004 and 2007. Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile, Series 19, 1-20; Statistics Canada, Minister of Industry, June 25, 2014.
In the workplace, a certain amount of sexual banter, flirting or joking is "just part of the job."
Fact: Sexual harassment is not a part of any job and should not be tolerated. More than one quarter (28%) of Canadians have experienced sexual harassment in their place of work or at a work-related function, as reported by the Angus Reid Institute.
Experiencing sexual assault is not harmful in the long run.
Fact: Sexual assault or harassment can have serious effects on a person’s emotional and physical health and well-being. People who have been sexually assaulted or harassed can experience a wide range of life-changing feelings, including feelings of depression, self-harm, loss of safety and anxiety. They may have flashbacks and nightmares. This is regardless of the age at which the assault occured. Sexual assault or harassment affects each individual differently, and recovery can last from months to years.
Sexual assault does not happen in my community or to my social group.
Fact: Anyone, anywhere can be sexually assaulted or harassed. Believing in this misconception perpetuates harmful social norms that make it harder for survivors of sexual assault and harassment to come forward with their experience and access support. That being said, some people are at greater risk than others of being sexually assaulted or harassed due to their gender, sexual orientation, and/or socio-cultural background. Homophobia and transphobia are behind the alarming rates that represent violence against LGBTQI people, especially trans women of colour.
The only way to fully protect yourself is to avoid being alone in deserted places, like alleys, especially at night.
Fact: 80% of reported sexual assaults are committed by someone the person knows, such as a friend, partner, service provider, family member, or acquaintance. Sexual assault most often occurs in a private place, like the residence of the survivor or perpetrator. It can also occur in public places like parties, parks and alleyways.
Sexual assault is caused by the perpetrator’s uncontrollable sexual urge.
Fact: Sexual assault is an act of power and control, not sex. One of the biggest misconceptions about sexual assault is that it happens out of sexual desire. Sexual assault is highly sexualized in our society due to the link between sex and violence prevalent in our culture.
- Most people who commit sexual assault have available sexual relationships.
- By making the issue about sex and not about violence, this crime seems more acceptable and less severe.
- The offender is allowed then to use the excuse that they simply desired sex, and just "took it too far".
If a person comes to orgasm then it is not really sexual assault.
Fact: Orgasm does not mean that someone "enjoyed" the sex, or that they wanted it. Orgasm can be a natural biological reaction that someone can’t control; it does not mean that forced or coerced sexual activity was consensual. Often this is used to silence the survivor.
Sexual assault is often the result of miscommunication or a mistake.
Fact: Sexual does not occur due to a miscommunication between two people. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent through coercion, intimidation, the use of force or threats, choosing to disregard someone’s “No”, not respecting someone’s personal boundaries, and not checking in.
Sex workers cannot be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Just because someone has accepted money or an exchange for a particular sexual act does not mean they have consented to sex or further sexual acts. A sex worker, just like anyone else, always has the right to say no and can retract their consent at any time. Additionally, consent can never be implied or obtained through threats or intimidation.
People with disabilities are not sexually assaulted.
Fact: People with disabilities are at a high risk of experiencing sexual violence or assault, especially women. Those who live with activity limitations are over two times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than those who are able- bodied.