By: (Neha Chhetri) “Liloandstitchface”


Companion Infographic:
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Table Of Contents

  1. Introduction: Definition of Rape
  2. Statistical Breakdown and Analysis
  3. The Legal Process of Sexual Assault
  4. Responding to a Survivor of Sexual Assault
  5. Phrases to Say to a Survivor
  6. Challenging the Myths
  7. Final Thoughts

Introduction: Definition of Rape

Sexual assault is a problem that has always plagued communities, and the Smash community is no exception. Though sexism in our competitive community has improved since my last publishing, Voices of Women in Smash, the recent community-wide outbreak of reported sexual assaults has necessitated this piece. Several women have come forward and reported that they have been assaulted or even raped by well-known, liked smashers. In general, public response to the survivors has been extremely disheartening, with many people spouting the same tired accusations that always doggedly follow victims of sexual crimes. It is my cautiously optimistic belief that these damaging reactions are motivated by ignorance rather than malice. By publishing this essay and infographic, I hope to educate smashers on sexual assault statistics, helpful responses to say to survivors, and what the arduous healing process entails.

          To start off, let’s define and delineate what sexual assault means. The term sexual assault covers a wide range of unwanted behaviors that are attempted or completed against a victim’s will or when a victim cannot consent because of age, disability, or the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sexual assault may involve actual or threatened physical force, use of weapons, coercion, intimidation, or pressure and may include:

  • Penetration of the victim’s body against their will, also known as rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching, groping
  • Intentional touching of the victim’s genitals, anus, groin, or breasts
  • Voyeurism
  • Exposure to exhibitionism
  • Tricking the victim into thinking you are someone else
  • Refusing to use a condom when asked and penetrating the victim anyways, or taking it off partway through sex without the victim’s consent or knowledge
  • Sabotaging birth control or lying about being on birth control (ie: poking holes in condoms)
  • Undesired exposure to pornography
  • Public display of images that were taken in a private context or when the victim was unaware (ex: showing people private nudes of someone without their permission)

          It is not consensual sex unless both participants are fully aware of the situation, of sound mind, able to consent, have their desired birth control being used without sabotage, and have the ability to withdraw consent at any time without fear of reprisal. Any deception, coercion, or violence can turn a normal sexual encounter into rape. To clarify, rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The FBI’s legal definition of rape specifically includes non consensual penetration of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. Sexual assault has the broader definition that includes all the bulleted points above, leading some people to claim that “the definition of ‘rape’ is so loose these days – women can claim anything is rape and get away with it.” I personally have seen people comment on my previous publishings and claim that women will cry rape and assault if someone just brushes against them, and with that one accusation instantly send a person to jail on their whims. This could not be further from the truth. Make no mistake–sexual assault is a crime of power and control, not an accident, result of “mixed signals”, lapse in judgment, or a crime of passion. Prosecuting and convicting an accused rapist is far more complicated and difficult than is commonly believed, and the grueling process often re-traumatizes victims in the process.

          In my previous work, I reported that 1 in 4 female smashers I interviewed willingly volunteered to me that they had been raped (Voices of Women in Smash). This caused a lot of outrage and disbelief, with many people doubting that the number could be so high. In reality, the actual number is certainly higher, with the World Health Organization reporting that 1 in 3 women worldwide experience sexual or physical violence, especially at the hands of a partner. The point of these statistics is to inform the reader that yes, sexual assault really is that common, and it is not at all like the myths purported by media and conventional wisdom. For example, most victims know their assailant. Stranger rape is quite rare, despite what popular school of thought would have you believe. In fact, rape is statistically more likely to happen at the hands of friends, neighbors, partners, family members, and known members of shared communities (NIJ). 

Statistical Breakdown and Analysis

          Innumerable, harmful myths about sex crimes tend to follow the victims of these very real tragedies.  The following are examples of ill-informed, yet all too common responses to  sexual assault cases:

  • “Lots of women cry rape when they regret sex.”
  • “Women accuse celebrities and athletes of rape all the time for money and attention.”
  • “They didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute, so she was probably lying.”
  • “If she was really raped she would have called the police right away.”

          Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault. Misconceptions about the rate of false reports can have negative consequences, especially in that such misconceptions directly contribute to the high rate at which real victims choose to remain silent (Lisak). I have personally seen biased statistics touted as fact which estimate that anywhere from 60% to 90% of rape accusations are false. In other words, the people who spread these baseless rumors are making the claim that nearly all rape accusations are somehow entirely fabricated. The thoroughly documented reality is starkly different from the myth. In a study spanning from 2000-2003, researchers studied 812 reports of sexual assault and found a 2.1% rate of false reports (Heenan).  This is approximately the same percentage of false reports as any other felony, and hardly the inflated number that is often claimed as true (FBI).

          The International Association of Chiefs of Police upholds that the “determination that a report of sexual assault is false can be made only if the evidence establishes that no crime was committed or attempted.” To assume that any accusation not resulting in conviction was false, made up, or unfounded is completely incorrect. What it does mean is that there was not enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. We cannot reduce all of these cases to the same basis, despite their common outcome. Rather, we must infer two things: first, that indeed some dismissed cases are based on initial false reports; second, that far more dismissed cases arise from truthful, yet unprovable, reports. While false accusations do happen, and are a very serious crime, people claim that rape allegations are false far more frequently than they actually are, and by a margin disproportionate to that of any other crime. The rate at which women are raped far exceeds the rate at which men are falsely accused, and the insistence on treating the two issues as equally prevalent is a textbook rhetorical fallacy. Endless discussion about false accusations are used as a red herring to avoid having to confront and admit the reality of sexual assaults, or used as a tactic to accuse feminists of being hypocritical for not going after both problems with the same concern.  

The Legal Process of Sexual Assault

          Against all reason, a woman who reports a sex crime is more likely to receive backlash, and more likely to encounter doubt and dismissal, than she would if she were reporting a nonsexual crime. Another prevailing misconception holds that if an accusation does not result in the accused being incarcerated, then the accusation must have been false from the outset. There are in fact myriad reasons why so few accused rapists ever serve a single day in prison, and it is very rarely because the accuser was lying. It is, however, understandable that the average person is relatively unaware of the intricacies of legal proceedings. Therefore, I present the following breakdown of this complicated legal process.

          1. The Accusation: This is the first step towards justice for victims of rape; unfortunately, due to external pressures and stress, it is a step which few can bring themselves to take. Rape is a notoriously underreported crime; it is believed that only 16%-35% of all sexual assaults are reported to the police (Planty)(Wolitzky-Taylor). The victim’s relationship with the offender also has a strong effect on the likelihood of reporting: only about 25% of rapes committed by an intimate partner are reported, between 18%–40% of rapes committed by a friend or acquaintance, and between 46%–66% committed by a stranger (Hart). The reasons for this are varied and complex: victims can often exhibit signs of denial that they were raped; some victims fear being dismissed and discredited; still others are impeded by the consequences of speaking out against their assailant. Oftentimes, a victim will not even immediately realize that they were raped, but will instead describe the encounter as a “bad sexual experience.” Education about what constitutes rape and assault is so sparse that many people, including victims, still believe that “true” rape only occurs when perpetrated by a stranger or with physical force.

          Additionally, victims can expect to have to sacrifice an unjust amount of privacy if they choose to come forward with their allegation. If their claim becomes public, their every behavior may be scrutinized; they may be shamed for their sexual history; they may be accused of harboring ulterior motives. Descriptors such as “crazy”, “slutty”, “gold-digging”, “lying”, and “manipulative” are frequently attributed to victims. Readers familiar with mainstream and social media have almost certainly observed this kind of scrutiny in action. All too often–and especially when the accused is an established public persona–victims who come forward with sexual assault allegations find their reputations subject to unwarranted criticism and slander to a degree not seen with public accusations made by victims of nonsexual crimes.

          The infamous court case Constand v Cosby illustrates all too well how victims suffer in the public eye for the sake of preserving the assailant’s own image. One of Bill Cosby’s victims filed an assault charge against the beloved public figure in 2004 (Fisher).  But it wasn’t until another male comedian brought attention to Cosby’s many rapes that media start to take the claims seriously, paving the way for dozens more women come forward with sexual assault allegations. Some of these claims dated back nearly fifty years–for decades, Cosby had been drugging and then raping countless women. The reason he was allowed to rape without consequence for so long–the very thing that enabled him to continue committing these heinous crimes–was our own society’s distrustful attitude toward rape victims. Despite the testimony of over 50 women, public discourse became rife with claims that the victims were lying and seeking attention and money. Cosby’s many victims experienced persecution of a kind that far surpasses what victims of nonsexual crimes normally endure from the public sphere. Our culture essentially gives rapists the message that they are entitled to be believed and respected. The message it sends to the victims is the exact opposite; they are afforded neither of these courtesies and made out to be villains with hidden agendas.

          2. Evidence: In the unlikely event that the victim makes a report, there is only a 20% chance that it will lead to prosecution (RAINN). There are many reasons for this: rape and assault often leave behind no evidence for police to collect. The victim is often terrified and confused and does not immediately go to police, and instead showers and washes away the evidence in order to feel clean from their attacker. Rape testing at hospitals is invasive, extensive and can further traumatize victims. Even if a kit is successfully collected, that is no guarantee that it will even be tested. Weeks of DNA analysis can cost between $500-$1,500 a kit, and labs are often overwhelmed (The Economist). It has recently come to light that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in America alone, which yields serious implications of injustice as well as concerns of public safety.

          3. Trial: Only about one tenth of all rape cases makes it to this stage in the legal process.  For the few that do, the battle is far from over. Depending on how the defendant pleads, a trial can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years. When a defendant pleads not guilty to rape, it takes an average of 702 days–roughly two years–to reach a verdict (Morris). During that time, victims will be required to repeatedly recollect and discuss in painstaking detail what happened to them. They will be obligated to give their account of the incident as many times as deemed necessary by lawyers who are paid to discredit them, all while countless people judge from the sidelines (HG). Only half of all prosecuted rapists receive a felony conviction.  When all’s said and done, only one third of prosecuted rapists serve a day of a prison sentence.

To recap:

Out of 100 rapes:

46 get reported to police

12 lead to an arrest

9 are prosecuted

5 lead to a felony conviction

3 are sent to prison.

The other 97 will walk free (RAINN)

          It’s not nearly as simple as the myth that an accusation nearly always leads to a swift incarceration. Once we are aware of them, the statistics speak for themselves.

          4. Incarceration: Fewer than one rape victim in thirty can expect to see their attacker brought to justice. Only 1,000 rapists are convicted every year despite 95,000 people (the vast majority of them women) being victimized yearly by the trauma of rape (Morris). Even if convicted and sent to prison, the average sentence for rapists is only 9.8 years, while the actual time served is almost half that at 5.4 years (Greenfield). The re-incarceration rate for sex offenders is also high, with 60% of released rapists being re-arrested within five years for a new violent crime (Durose).

          The long and arduous road to recovery for the rape victim is also not over even if their attacker ends up behind bars. A staggering 94% of women who are raped suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental condition that can incapacitate someone for years (Riggs). Nearly a third of rape victims become suicidal after their attack. A rape victim is 10 times more likely than a non-victim to turn to hard drugs in order to cope with their trauma. Women who become victims of sexual assault are at much higher risk than other women of being raped again. The highest re-victimization rate for crimes other than domestic violence is found among sexual assault survivors, who stand a 35 times greater chance of sexual assault than non-victims (Mawby). Research has suggested that the trauma of rape can result in behaviors that can increase a victim’s exposure to potential offenders and make them more vulnerable to further attack (Davis). It is not a matter of a victim only suffering for the one time that they were assaulted. This is a sentiment often seen touted by people who claim that false rape accusations are worse than actual rape because an accusation can stay with you for a lifetime but a rape is only a few minutes. The ramifications of being raped can stay with victims for years to come and it is deeply offensive to reduce such a traumatizing act to “a few minutes of action.”

Responding to a Survivor of Sexual Assault

          Despite the stigmatization of those who speak up, keeping sexual assault a secret is not only extremely difficult for a survivor, but ultimately harmful if bottled up. Therefore, be prepared to listen and respond with care if/when a loved one confides in you that they have been sexually abused in any way.  Understand that your only responsibility in the moment is to be a supportive confidant in the survivor’s time of distress. In order to do this, you must be aware of both the risk of increasing your loved one’s distress with misguided responses, and the reward of easing their pain with compassionate words and kindness. With the intent to make this process easier for both parties, I have compiled the following guidelines:

  • Listen. Be there. Communicate without judgment. By offering empathy and support, you are placing faith in a person who may need it more than ever. This simple act of compassion will not result in anybody’s wrongful incarceration or inflate rape statistics. It can only help the survivor.
  • Don’t turn it into an interrogation. It is harmful to ask questions that suggest fault on the part of the survivor, such as: “What were you wearing?”, “Why did you trust that person?”, “Why did you put yourself in that situation?”, “Why didn’t you call the police right away?” Remember that you are not law enforcement in charge of an investigation. Though casting judgments from the outside is easy, suspending judgment is much harder; and, like so many hard things–from Melee to marathon running–your best effort will be fruitful and rewarding.
  • Encourage the survivor to get support. Reassure them that you believe them and others will believe them, too. But toe the line: you must recognize that only the survivor can make the decision to get help. It is unhelpful to pressure a victim into reporting if they are not ready to do so: rape kits, court hearings, and everything else the reporting process entails can be daunting to someone who understandably wants to avoid further feelings of stress and humiliation. Most survivors need time to process what happened to them, and your listening ear is a crucial part of that very process. With this in mind, remind yourself, just as survivors often have to remind themselves, that they are not responsible for what their rapist did or does. Insisting that a survivor immediately take on the duty of persecuting their attacker, or implying that it is the only acceptable step to take if they were “really” assaulted, will only serve to intensify negative feelings left over from the trauma. It is common to tell a survivor that if their assailant assaults another person, they are partially to blame for not putting them behind bars in time. This not only untrue, but deeply damaging to someone who has already suffered enough and does not need the added stress of bearing the load for every act a rapist commits. Remember that in this situation, your role is to support, uplift, and reassure; anything outside of these goals can actually make the victim more hesitant or less likely to speak out at all
  • Offer to be there. If the survivor plans to report their assault or seek medical attention, offering your presence can be a powerful source of strength for someone who may otherwise not follow through. Nobody wants to go through this process alone and having a friend be their support during this difficult time can help in more ways than you can imagine.
  • Be patient. Remember, there is no timetable or strict precedent for recovering from trauma. Counter to society’s expectations, and despite most cinematic portrayals of the survivor’s struggle, recovery rarely happens in a “timely” or linear manner. There will most likely be bumps in the proverbial road. There will be good days when the survivor appears particularly healthy and functional; but there will also be “bad” days when they seem to regress. Survivors are still entirely human and will experience “ups and downs” like the rest of us; theirs may simply be more pronounced for a while because of the extra stress they are under. Survivors will not necessarily act the way one might expect them to act. Trauma and recovery alike are difficult to navigate, and each one takes on infinite forms depending upon the personality, experience, and perseverance of the survivor–and perhaps most importantly, their support system.
  • Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain has disappeared. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story. Your continued caring can mean a lot to someone who may feel abandoned.

Encouraging words and phrases can avoid judgment and show support for the survivor.

Phrases to say to a Survivor:

          In addition to the above behaviors, it is important to have discourse and prepared phrases in place. The simple act of talking about their experience and feelings can be deeply cathartic to a survivor, but it is often difficult to know exactly what to say. With the help of RAINN, I have compiled the following list of expressions that may be helpful to say to a survivor of sexual assault.

  • “I’m sorry this happened.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “this must be really tough for you,” and “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.
  • “It’s not your fault.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor as many times as necessary that they are not to blame. They didn’t ask to be assaulted, they didn’t deserve it, and they didn’t bring it upon themselves with their actions.
  • “I believe you.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts; your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur; everyone responds differently to trauma. The best thing you can do is to believe them. Remember that offering support DOES NOT mean you are sending anyone to jail.
  • “You are not alone.” Remind the survivor that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story. Remind them there are other people in their life who care and that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they recover from the experience.
  • “Are you open to seeking medical attention?” The survivor might need medical attention, even if the event happened a while ago. You can support the survivor by offering to accompany them or find more information.
  • “You can trust me.” If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure them that you can be trusted and will respect their privacy. Don’t presume it’s ok to tell other people their story. Sexual assault takes control out of the victim’s hands. They need to regain control in order to begin the healing process. Let them be the ones who decide who have what piece of information about them.
  • “This doesn’t change how I think of you.” Some survivors are concerned that sharing what happened will change the way other people see them, especially a partner. Reassure the survivor that surviving sexual violence doesn’t change the way you think or feel about them.

Challenging the Myths

          There is perhaps no crime that is more misunderstood than that of rape. There are innumerable false statistics and myths about the nature of rape that continue to pervade public attitudes. In the following passage I will break down and debunk several common myths about sexual assault and back them up with citations from scientific journals. By the end of the report it should be clear that the crime of rape is never the victim’s fault, and defies the conventional beliefs that people attempt to apply to it.

          Myth #1 Rape is about revealing clothing: If this common myth was accurate, rape rates would skyrocket in the summertime when people are wearing less clothing. The truth is that although sexual assault rates exhibit some regular fluctuation across some of the seasons, the patterns did not indicate a single peak season, as the differences between the summer and spring rates were not statistically significant (Lauritsen). The notion that clothing contributes to sex crimes is pervasive even in the academic sphere. A survey of psychiatrists reported that a 3-1 majority believed that revealing attire (short skirts, short shorts, bikinis, etc.) is one of the causative or precipitating factors in sex crimes (Beiner). Highly-educated and learned adults believe that how a woman dresses has an impact on whether or not she will be a victim of a sex crime, whereas studies of rapists show that victim attire is not a significant factor (Beiner). Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing. So why does this myth endure? Social scientists believe this is the result of the “just world hypothesis” where for their own security, people want to believe they live in a just world where people get what they deserve. “One way of accomplishing this is by persuading himself that the victim deserved to suffer, after all. The assumption here is that attaching responsibility to behavior provides us with the greater security—we can do something to avoid such a fate (Melvin).”

          People often attribute sexual assault to something the victim has done, such as wearing provocative clothing, as a way to understand how it could happen to someone else and not to them. Blaming the victim, for example: by believing she provoked the behavior by her dress, makes other women believe that dressing differently (i.e., more “appropriately”) will prevent it from happening to them.

          Myth #2 Rape is about how slutty someone is:  If rape was about how much sex someone has had in the past, then virgins and pre-pubescent children wouldn’t get raped, but they do. The National Violence Against Women Survey found that rape is a crime committed primarily against youth. Of the women who reported being raped sometime in their lives, 21.6% were younger than age 12, 32.4% were ages 12 to 17. Half of women victims were under age 18 at the time of the first rape–minors that are often virgins or with very little sexual history. In addition, ⅓ of women report that they describe their first sexual experience as non-voluntary or forced (Abma). The consequences of childhood sexual abuse span far beyond the time when it was committed, as women who reported they were raped before age 18 were twice as likely to report being raped as an adult (Tjaden).

          Myth # 3 Rape is about how attractive someone is: By conventional, Western standards of beauty, this would mean that mostly white, thin, able-bodied, attractive women are raped. This would categorize rape as a crime of passion, brought on by someone’s irresistible beauty. In reality, American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than a white woman, with 1 in 3 experiencing sexual violence within their lifetime (Tjaden). In addition, being obese and therefore not fitting into the body type of a conventionally attractive figure does not prevent or detract rapists from targeting a victim. 73% of patients undergoing psychiatric hospitalization following gastric bypass have a history of sexual abuse (Clark). The victimization rate for people with intellectual disabilities is even higher than that of the overweight, with 80% of cognitively disabled women and 30% of cognitively disabled men having been raped at least once in their lifetime (Sobsey). The elderly are not exempt from sexual assault either–persons ages 50 and older make up 3% of rape victims (Perkins). Men are also the overlooked gender when it comes to rape, with many people erroneously believing that it is impossible to rape a man at all. This is a ridiculous sentiment, as 1 in 33 American men have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime (Tjaden). It can be concluded from all of this that rapists are motivated by anger and a need to express power, rather than by sexual desire (Cartwright). Of course, sexual desire can be inter-related and the crime can be very opportunistic (e.g. looking for vulnerable victims), but the myth that rapists are propelled to do their crimes because of uncontrolled sexual desire is a pernicious fabrication. It takes no small amount responsibility away from the actual offender and instead places the burden on victims for being “irresistibly beguiling”.

          Myth #4 Rape is about how intoxicated someone is: There is a prevailing, toxic rhetoric that lays blame onto a victim if they are drunk at the time of their assault. If a woman has had too much to drink, our society often writes off any sex crimes that happen to her as her due. She should have known better, brought up as she was to know that drinking heavily could lead to her victimization; and she chose to risk her safety anyways. Sexual assault is often seen as a just punishment for indiscreet behavior (Cunha). This is a deeply disturbing perception of alcohol and sexual assault, a subject that is full of controversial and polarizing viewpoints. Let it be made clear: people don’t get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them (Bliss).

          Getting intoxicated only leads to rape if there’s someone present to commit that rape. When you remove rapists from the equation, the risks of getting drunk — which are still otherwise substantial— don’t include getting raped. Of course, that doesn’t mean alcohol has no relationship with sexual assault whatsoever–alcohol is present in about half of sexual assaults (Abbey). It’s certainly possible that alcohol clouds some perpetrators’ judgment and encourages them to push the boundaries of consent further than they would have otherwise. And it’s undeniably true that alcohol is one of the tools that rapists use to prey on victims and lower their defenses. But it is important to note that alcohol is just one of many tools a rapist can use to assault, and the lack of it won’t necessarily stop a rapist from assaulting people.

          That points to a largely undiscussed aspect of sexual violence: often, the “drunk victim” was targeted as a victim before they took a sip of alcohol on the night of their assault. It didn’t matter how much they ended up drinking. This doesn’t even touch the notion of date-rape drugs–someone could be being responsible and drinking only non-alcoholic beverages and still be drugged and assaulted. The uncomfortable reality is that most sexual predators don’t simply “slip up” after having too much to drink and accidentally violate someone’s consent. Rather, they’re often making calculated decisions to achieve their goal of assaulting multiple victims (Lisak). These statistics I have compiled turn most of the conventional wisdom about rape and alcohol on its head. While telling people to consume less alcohol isn’t in and of itself incorrect, the problem arises when that becomes the primary (or only) response to alcohol-involved sexual assault. It is far more important to teach people to better understand boundaries and consent, rather than to moralize and lay blame just because alcohol is involved. More broadly, it’s important to remember that sexual assault isn’t actually unique in its relationship to alcohol. In fact, at least half of all violent crimes occur after the perpetrator, the victim, or both have been drinking alcohol (Abbey). Sexual assault simply fits neatly within that larger pattern — yet we’re much less likely to assume that alcohol factored into an armed robbery, or call on people to stop drinking so they won’t get mugged. It is only when dealing with crimes of a sexual nature that the discussion involves the victim as much as it does the offender, derailing the conversation from who is actually to blame–the rapist.

          Myth # 5 Rape is about being in unsafe places: There is a damaging doctrine out there that claims that most rapes happen in dark alleyways, to women walking down the street at night in an unsafe area. One paper by the US Department of Justice studied the sexual assaults of thousands of victims over the course of a decade. What they found was that 48% of the time the survivor was assaulted, they were at home. 29% were traveling to and from work or school, 12% were working, 7% were at school. Only 5% were in other categories (Planty). It is clear from the data that there is little evidence to support the false belief that people are raped while traversing through dangerous places at night, visiting strange houses or sketchy bars. In actuality, they are assaulted in their homes, schools, and workplaces–places that are commonly thought to be relatively safe.

          Myth #6 There are very few people who rape, and those who are obvious and noticeable criminals who are strangers to the victim: There is a racist idea prevalent in society that is young, black men who are the primary perpetrators of rape, especially against white women. I have already stated before that the race that is most at-risk for sexual assault are American Indians, not white women. Percentage-wise, it is white men that are 30 years and older who are the most common perpetrators of this crime, with 50% of rapists being 30 years or older and 57% of them being white (Planty).

          In addition there is an idea that there are only a handful of obvious criminal men out there that are performing the vast majority of rapes, with full awareness of the evil nature of their crime. I have already stated before that most rapes are committed by the partners and friends of victims, most often at home and not by strangers in an alleyway. The percentage of men who rape is not negligible, and there are various studies that put the number anywhere between 6% and an unsettling 10.8% (Lisak & Miller)(Swartout). This fails to support notions that a few extremely sexually active men could account for the victimization of a sizable number of women. Another complication is that these numbers are self reported by men who admit to having committed a sexual assault–many, however, do not realize that they have.  

          It may be that some men fail to perceive accurately the degree and coerciveness that was involved in a particular sexual encounter or to interpret correctly a woman’s non consent and resistance. A study by Scully and Marolla interviewed 114 incarcerated rapists, 28% of whom denied that the incident for which they were convicted was a rape, and 16% of whom refused any blame whatsoever for their actions. The deniers, although they used physical force and injured their victims, saw their behavior as congruent with consensual sexual activity (Koss). Deniers attempted to justify their behavior by presenting the victim in a light that made her appear culpable, regardless of their own actions. Five themes run were apparent when rapists attempt to justify their rapes: (1) women as seductresses; (2) women mean “yes” when they say “no”; (3) most women eventually relax and enjoy it; (4) nice girls don’t get raped; and (5) guilty of a minor wrongdoing (Scully). In addition, a majority of rapists are repeat offenders. One study showed that almost two thirds of rapists raped more than once, with an average of six rapes and/or attempted rapes (Lisak & Miller). By attacking victims within their social circles and by refraining from the kind of violence likely to produce physical injuries in their victims, these rapists create cases where victims are less likely to report, and that prosecutors are less likely to prosecute. A recent study of the factors associated with rape reporting found that only two factors could be isolated that increased the likelihood of victim reporting and of a prosecutor charging the case: physical injuries and the use of a weapon (Bachman). In other words, and likely in no small part due to the prevalent notion that “real” rape is only when committed with violence and a weapon, most victims do not report their assaults and most assaults do not get prosecuted unless it fits into a the stereotype of what rape should look like. 

          Conclusion: How often are women told that in order to avoid rape they need to cover up and not walk down dangerous streets alone at night? How repeatedly are they warned to avoid drinking, not engage in premarital sex, limit their dating pool, avoid traveling, dress modestly, always have a close male friend or partner by her side to protect her in public? These sobering statistics show that all of these precautions are not a foolproof preventative towards sexual assault, and to treat them as such lays blame on victims for not doing their every possible duty to avoid rape, rather than on the rapists who commit the actual crime. A victim of sexual assault can do everything “right” by societal standards and still get raped, and it is detrimental to continue to tout these measures as useful to avoid victimization when the reality is so starkly different than the myth. The truth is that there is nothing a person can do to decrease their risk of assault down to zero. People can certainly take steps to decrease their chances of victimization but it is not their moral/legal responsibility to do so in order to be free of blame and judgment. Focusing on conventional “precautions” against sexual assault distract us from having conversations about the real root of the cause: a lack of education, empathy, and a cultural entitlement to people’s bodies for sexual pleasure.

Final Thoughts

          It is my hope that by reading this laboriously cited essay and its corresponding infographic, smashers will learn how to identify sexual assault, be educated on the unacceptable statistics about the low incarceration and high re-victimization rate, and learn empathetic ways to respond to survivors of sexual assault. I understand that it is hard to accept that such a horrible crime can be so common and widespread without many of us even realizing. It is deeply uncomfortable to look around you and realize that many people you know may be victims of rape without you even knowing. You don’t want to think that celebrities you admire or look up to can be capable of raping someone without you having realized. You don’t want to imagine that maybe even someone you know is a rapist and you have no idea. You want a rapist to be an obvious criminal and rape to be a clear cut crime that results in immediate swift justice and a victim’s easy recovery. You want rape to be a crime so rare it’s almost unheard of–certainly not relevant to your life or worth reading too much about. Perhaps in reading this essay you have realized that you have been a victim of a sexual assault, or you may have committed it against someone else without realizing the full extent of what you were doing. It is painful to examine your past and modify your long-held beliefs about rape to better fit what is actually true.

          Many comments and reactions that accompany any type of news about sexual violence are guaranteed to be ignorant and hurtful. I am sure some of you are furiously typing up comments to point out that the statistics I have used are false, made up, or exaggerated–despite how carefully I compiled the evidence from reputable scientific journals and government databases and made an extensive works cited which is listed below. You might want to accuse me of being a crazy feminist trying to shove my radical beliefs down your throat, and you read somewhere that most rape reports are made up anyways and rape is exceedingly rare in modern society. Maybe you think that I’m making a big deal out of nothing–you haven’t been raped, you haven’t noticed any sexism, and you don’t know anyone who was raped. It is easier to say that I am lying or exaggerating than it is to examine yourself and the society you live in and start to see how rape and the covering up of rape have been ingrained in the fabric of our society for so long that we become accustomed and nearly blind to it.

          Realizing that every one of us is a flawed human that most likely holds sexist, racist, illogical views towards our fellow man is deeply uncomfortable. If you are taking the time to read this far into this essay, it means that you are trying to educate yourself about this issue, you most likely would never rape, and you wouldn’t want the people you love to suffer because of misguided views you may hold about rape. If you decide to completely disregard anything you hear that challenges your preconceived notions about sexual assault, you aren’t helping anyone. Please remember that before going forward in a crusade to prove that all statistics that go against your views are biased and have “too little of a sample size” to be taken seriously. Before you say that a victim was lying, deserved it, should have done this or that–remember that it is almost certain there are people in your life who you care about that have been victims of rape. If they heard you said those things to other victims they may silently decide to no longer trust you with their own story. Sexual assault is a plague on society and only by education and empathy can we even begin to stamp out not only the crime but the ignorance, distrust, and shaming that comes along with responding to survivors and statistics.

–Neha Chhetri, @LiloNStitchface


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