Sexual Abuse, Myths and Identity
by Adela Brent
of Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre
Trigger warning for references to sexual abuse and negative social myths surrounding it.
Sexual abuse can affect women’s identity. Beliefs about who they are can be shaped by experiences of violence in their life. There are many misconceptions about women and sexual violence in the community. Unfortunately, many people believe them, including women who have been sexually abused. They can spend years of their life believing they are bad, not okay and “damaged goods” (as some women told me) because they believe some of these myths that are usually reinforced by society as a whole.
- Sexual abuse is an unusual occurrence. Some women might think that they are the only ones who have been violated and see themselves as “different”. The reality is that sexual abuse happens to many women and children. Taking into account that offensive staring and leering, unwanted touching and sexual harassment are also sexual abuse.
- Women lie about rape. Many women have been called “liars”, but the reality is that victims of sexual assault are more likely to remain silent about the assault than to report it. It has been my experience that women don’t lie about sexual abuse.
- Women enjoy being raped. No one enjoys sexual violation. The function of this myth is to reduce rape to an experience that is trivial and inconsequential and it also reduces women to objects.
- Women who are sexually abused because they dress or behave provocatively. This myth states that women who dress certain way are “not good” and deserve to be raped. Friendly behavior, drinking alcohol and accepting car rides, are interpreted as “signs of consent” and they are not. It does not matter what women are wearing, it is not an invitation to rape. Full stop.
- Most women are raped by strangers. Although many women are raped by strangers, many women are raped and sexually abused by people they know including fathers; step-fathers; uncles; brothers; cousins; boyfriends; husbands; friends; dates; friends of the family; neighbors; etc. Many experiences of sexual abuse occur in the home.
- Men “can’t help themselves”. They rape because they cannot control their sexual urges. This is just an excuse. Sexual abuse is not an impulsive sexual act. It is an act of aggression and power.
- Men who rape or sexually abuse women and children are “sick”. Most sex offenders are ordinary men from all classes, professions, ages, nationalities, religious beliefs and backgrounds. They are not necessarily psychopaths or mentally ill. Sex offenders are usually men who are expressing a commonly accepted male behavior in sexist societies which reflect a very low regard for women.
- It is up to women to avoid being raped. In reality, it is up to sex offenders to stop abusing and take responsibility for sexual violence.
- Women never rape. About 1% of sex offenders are women. Women can also incorporate patriarchal values.
- Women cry rape when it suits them. Women are usually too ashamed to tell anyone that they suffered an experience of sexual violence. They know the legal system does not deliver meaningful justice to women and children. Most cases of sexual violence are never reported to the police. Many rape survivors do not tell anyone.
- If women don’t struggle or scream, it cannot be rape. When we are scared, we tend to freeze. Women do not struggle to avoid further violence. They know they could be killed if they resist.
- Children are sexually provocative. Children do not give permission to be exploited and abused. The myth of the “seductive child” is often used as a defence by the offender. There is an enormous difference in the power and authority of an adult compared to a child.
Unfortunately, these myths are very much alive in the community. They do not help survivors of sexual violence. They protect perpetrators. What can we do to challenge these myths? As individuals? As a community? How can we contribute to eliminating them so they will be a thing of the past? These are very important questions to answer if we want to build a better world for women and children where sexual violence is no more….
~ Adela Brent
Sexual Assault Counsellor
Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource