These misconceptions influence how sexual violence is understood by
- those who experience it;
- those who perpetrate it;
- the families and friends of both survivors and perpetrators;
- those who respond in professional capacities;
- and the broader public.
For example, it can be comforting to believe that those who commit sexual violence are strangers that exist on the fringes of society; that they are ‘creepy’ men who are easily identifiable and mentally unwell.
This popular misconception is harmful because it:
- Keeps us from recognizing the realities of sexual violence.
- Most people who commit sexual violence are known to us. They are our family members, friends, partners, co-workers, and acquaintances.
- When we believe that it is only strangers or easily identifiable ‘creepy’ men that commit sexual violence, it can be confusing when someone that we know and trust commits sexual violence.
As a result, when someone is sexually abused or assaulted by someone they know, they may not recognize the experience as sexual violence or they may blame themselves because they should have known and therefore, should have stayed away.
- Keeps support people and professionals from responding appropriately and effectively.
- It is difficult to accept that people we know and trust commit sexual violence – you often hear ‘no not him, he is such a good guy.’
- When someone discloses that they have been sexually abused or assaulted by someone that they know, or someone that we know, this misconception can make it difficult for us to believe them. We may suggest that they are in some way to blame.
- Keeps those who perpetrate sexual violence from being held accountable.
- When survivors are not believed, those who commit sexual violence are not held accountable for their actions.
- Keeps the broader public from identifying and adopting effective prevention strategies.
- Without a comprehensive understanding of who commits sexual violence and why, it is difficult for us as community members to identify ways in which we all can contribute to ending sexual violence.
Sexual violence is a complex social issue. Many of the popular misconceptions about sexual violence offer simplified explanations about why sexual violence happens, who experiences it, and who perpetrates it. These simplified explanations are appealing.
We also have a natural desire to seek feelings of safety and security. These popular misconceptions create and maintain a sense of safety and separation – unfortunately, when it comes to sexual violence this is a false sense of safety and separation.
Popular misconceptions distance us personally from the issue of sexual violence.
- They lead us to believe that we don’t know people who commit sexual violence and that we would never associate with people who commit sexual violence, therefore we are safe from sexual violence.
- They also lead us to believe that only certain types of people experience sexual violence. For example, only young intoxicated women, dressed provocatively, out late at night, and hanging around with strangers get sexually assaulted. Believing this allows us to assume that if we simply make different choices, we will be safe from sexual violence.