1. Wearing sexy clothing, flirting, drinking, and going out alone at night cause sexual assault.
It is a myth that what a person wears predicts whether they will be assaulted. How someone dresses or acts is never an invitation for sexual violence. Art exhibitions, such as “What Were You Wearing“, reveal the types of clothing people had on during a sexually assault. Research shows no correlation between wearing “provocative” clothing and sexual violence. The only cause of sexual violence is when an individual chooses to violate another person.
This misconception also suggests that men cannot control their actions if they see a woman who is showing skin or is in a vulnerable situation. This is absolutely not true. Men who choose to act violently must always be accountable for their actions.
As followers of Christ we are called to protect and offer safety to the vulnerable. We should never blame a victim for their experience of sexual violence, regardless of whether or not we think their choices put them at risk. There is only one person responsible for sexual violence; and that is the person who chooses to harass or abuse.
2. Girls and women often disclose sexual violence or exaggerate their experience as a way to retaliate or get attention.
Approximately 2-8% of reported sexual assault cases have been classified as false. This means that 92-98% of the time the victim-survivor is telling the truth.
We must always believe an individual when they come forward and disclose sexual violence. While our instinct might be to question or minimize the experience, we must remember that unless you are an investigator, it’s not your job to determine whether it’s true. To not believe a victim is to do further harm.
3. It is only considered sexual assault if the victim says “no” or struggles to fight off the perpetrator.
The lack of “no” does not mean a person has consented to sexual activity. Consent requires an informed and voluntary “YES”. If someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol they CANNOT consent.
There are a lot of ways to communicate non-compliance, such as:
- “I’m not into this right now”
- “Maybe later”
- “I’m not sure”
- Body language (squirming, stiffness, shaking)
Many survivors of assault do not “fight back” or otherwise actively resist, because it will only escalate the aggressor’s actions. To freeze in the moment is a common survival response.
4. If it really happened they wouldn’t have waited this long to say something.
There are so many reason why people choose not to disclose their experience of abuse. It is completely normal for someone to only tell of their experiences months, years, or decades after the fact. Some reasons why people don’t disclose are:
- They think the abuse is their fault
- They fear retaliation from the perpetrator, or the perpetrators have kept them quiet with threats
- They don’t want to disrupt stability in their family, friend group, school, or church
- They just want things to go back to normal
- They fear they won’t be believed, or will be judged
- They don’t believe anything good will come of speaking about it
5.You can’t experience sexual violence in a marriage
Many women have experienced sexual assaults in their marriage. To use force, guilt, or otherwise pressure a partner to engage in a sexual activity against their will is a form of sexual violence.
It is normal to choose having sex with your partner or spouse even if you are not in the mood. This can be an act of kindness and care for the relationship. However, it is never someone’s obligation or duty to sexually satisfy their partner. It should always come from a place of free choice. In a healthy relationship both partners respect one another’s sexual boundaries.
6. Victims of sexual violence need to forgive their perpetrator and move on. It’s the Christ-like thing to do.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things that victims of sexual violence might wrestle with. It’s true that forgiveness is Christ-like, and is something that is asked of Christ-followers. But authentic forgiveness only comes when it is voluntary, and not forced, not manipulated, not demanded by someone else (whether by the person who abused, or a well-meaning “friend”).
Authentic forgiveness may come at some point in the victim’s journey; but remember that even Jesus’s work of forgiveness came only “in the fullness of time,” and there were occasions when he said, “my time has not yet come.” Only the person who was violated can determine when that time might be.
Authentic forgiveness is an act of self-healing, a declaration that the person who violated, and the act that caused so much harm, no longer has any power over the victim’s future. If and when a survivor can move into that reality, it is a good thing; but not all might be able to make that move. See “Do I have to forgive?” for more reflection on this topic.