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We Believe You - rape myths we're challenging

There are so many myths about rape - about what it is, about who does it, and whom it happens to. Consciously or not, many people in Britain believe these myths, and they're reflected in the media and in the criminal justice system.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated May 31, 2022

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These myths discourage women from coming forward when they've been raped. They know that, unless they were raped in very specific - and statistically rare - circumstances, they will face disbelief. Find the results of our survey of more than 1,600 Mumsnet users here

They may fear that they will themselves be put on trial - for their behaviour, their sexual history, their previous relationship with their abuser. So join us in spreading the word on Twitter #webelieveyou and sharing your experiences #ididnotreport

MYTH: Women are most likely to be raped by a stranger, outside, in dark alleyways

REALITY: More than 80% of women who are raped know their attacker(1); 53% of perpetrators of serious sexual assaults are current partners or ex-partners.(2)

In fact, over two-thirds of rapes take place in the victim's home, the suspect's home or the victim/suspect's shared home(3). This myth can mean that women who are raped in these circumstances don't identify their experience as rape, and therefore don't report it. It also puts blame on the victim, and limits women's freedom of movement by implying that rape can be prevented by avoiding certain places.

MYTH: Women provoke rape by their appearance or their behaviour

REALITY: Dressing attractively, or flirting, is never an invitation to rape. Rape is not a 'crime of passion' - it is an expression of power and control.

It's never your fault. No woman 'asks to be raped' or 'deserves what she gets' - only the rapist is responsible for the rape.  Rape happens to all types of women, from the very young to the very old - physical appearance is irrelevant. There is no 'typical rape victim'. There is only one common factor in all rapes, and that is the rapist. MYTH BUSTED! by our blogger DillyTante.

MYTH: If a woman didn't struggle, wasn't injured, or didn't report immediately - she wasn't raped

REALITY: Victims may cooperate with the rapist to save their lives; or they may be paralysed by fear. Following rape, many victims experience shock; this can make them seem 'unnaturally calm'.

Victims are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured; the rapist may have threatened further harm - or harm to family members - if they resist. The victim's perception of danger will influence their behaviour.

Victims may experience shame, shock, or denial, which might mean they do not report the rape for some time. The Court of Appeal has ruled that a late complaint does not mean that it's a false complaint.(4)

MYTH: Women who get drunk or take drugs shouldn't be surprised if they are raped or sexually assaulted

REALITY: Being vulnerable does not imply consent. If a woman is drunk, drugged or unconscious, she is not able to consent to sex(5).

If a woman has consumed alcohol (fewer than four in 10 cases), it is the man's responsibility to ensure that the victim has given, or is capable of giving, consent. If he does not do so, he is committing rape. Similarly, a woman is not to blame if she drinks alcohol and is raped. Women have the same right to consume alcohol as men. MYTH BUSTED! by our blogger Inside the Wendy House.

MYTH: Women often lie about rape, and police officers and jurors should bear this in mind

REALITY:  There is no research evidence that false allegations are more common than for many other crimes. 

Home Office research indicates that between 3-8% of initial allegations are false, but that the lower figure is likely to be most accurate.(6)

Far from being widespread, malicious accusations are rare. A much greater problem in the criminal justice system is the under-reporting of rape - the government estimates that 89% of rapes are never reported to the police at all.(7)

In addition, only 5.3% of rapes reported to the police end in a conviction for rape - the lowest rate of any country in Europe, except for Ireland.(8)

MYTH: It's not rape if a woman has consented to some sexual intimacy, or has previously had sex with many partners

REALITY: A woman can withdraw consent at any time during sexual activity. Having many previous sexual partners does not imply generalised consent to sex.

A woman has a right to change her mind about having sex at any time during sexual contact. If a sexual partner does not stop at this point, it is sexual assault. All men are capable of stopping sexual activity at any point. Likewise, having previously consented to sex with other partners does not imply consent to all partners. Women involved in prostitution are as capable of being raped as other women.

MYTH: Rape can't take place in an ongoing relationship

REALITY: Previous consent to sex does not imply ongoing consent, and sex without consent is rape. It makes no difference whether the aggressor is a woman's husband or partner, or a complete stranger - 22% of rapes are committed by partners or ex-partners.

It's irrelevant whether or not a person is in a relationship with someone or has had sex with them previously. Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, told a court to approach rape within a relationship, including marriage, as "no less serious than rape by a stranger". Consent must be given every time two people engage in sexual contact. Sex without consent is rape.

MYTH: Some rapes aren't 'serious' rapes

REALITY: All rape is a violation, whether or not the rapist is a stranger, or uses violence.

All rapes are serious; some rapes and sexual assaults are compounded by other crimes, such as further violence, kidnapping or abuse, which will add to the woman's trauma. Acquaintance rape survivors may feel particularly vulnerable, since they have found that even people they trusted may hurt them. They may often have to face their assailants after the rapes, causing additional distress, fear and humiliation. They also tend to view themselves more negatively, and suffer more serious psychological problems than other victims(9).

(1) Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape. Home Office, 2007 (2) Povey, D. (Ed.), Coleman, K., Kaiza, P. and Roe, S. (2009). Homicide, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2007/08: Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2007/08. Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/09. London: Home Office. (3) Investigating and detecting recorded offences of rape. Home Office, 2007 (4) (R v D (JA) October 24 2008.) Crown Prosecution Service: Rape Manual/Legal Guidance (5) Crown Prosecution Service: Rape Manual/Legal Guidance (6) A Gap or a Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases. Kelly, Lovett and Regan, 2005, HORS 293 See also False Allegations in European Rape Research, L.Kelly, Violence Against Women 2010 Dec;16(12):1345-55; discussion 1372-4 (7) Smith, K. (Ed), Coleman, K., Eder, S. and Hall, P. (2011) Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2009/10 (Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2009/10) Home Office Statistical Bulletin 01/11, Table 3.12. (8) European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics, 2003 (9) Bad dates or emotional trauma? The aftermath of campus sexual assault. Schwartz, Martin D.; Leggett, Molly S. , Violence Against Women, Vol 5(3), Mar 1999, 251-271