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Rape and Sexual Offences:         Chapter 21: Societal Myths

Contents:

What is a "Myth"?

A "Myth" a commonly held belief, idea or explanation that is not true.  Myths arise from people's need to make sense of acts that are senseless, violent or disturbing.  They attempt to explain events, like rape and abuse, in ways that fit with our preconceived ideas about the world - they arise from and reinforce our prejudices and stereotypes.

It is an unfortunate fact that myths about rape and sexual violence are brought into the jury room, and form an obstacle to obtaining convictions.  It is therefore imperative that we recognise these myths and challenge them at every opportunity.

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Myth 1: Rape Occurs Between Strangers in Dark Alleys

Implications:

  • implies that home is safe;
  • implies that rape can be prevented by avoiding certain places and therefore blames the victim;
  • assumes a particular victim profile and therefore stigmatises him or her; and
  • entrenches racial and class prejudices.

Facts:

  • the majority of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim;
  • date or acquaintance rape is very common; and
  • victims are often raped in their homes.

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Myth 2: Women Provoke Rape By The Way They Dress or Act

Implications:

  • attempts to excuse rape and "blame the victim";
  • assumes that a woman who draws attention is looking for sex or "deserves what she gets" ; and
  • re-victimises and stigmatises the victim.

Facts:

  • dressing attractively and flirting is an invitation for attention and/or admiration, not for rape; and
  • only the rapist is responsible for the rape!

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Myth 3: Women Who Drink Alcohol or Use Drugs Are Asking to Be Raped

Implications:

  • attempts to excuse rape and 'blame the victim'; and
  • re-victimises and stigmatises the victim.

Facts:

  • women have the same right to consume alcohol as men;
  • being vulnerable does not imply consent;
  • if a woman is unable to give consent because she is drunk, drugged or unconscious, it is rape; and
  • only the rapist is responsible for the rape!

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Myth 4: Rape is a Crime of Passion

Implications:

  • assumes that rape is impulsive and unplanned;
  • assumes men to be incapable of delaying gratification or controlling sexual urges;
  • assumes that rape is about uncontrollable lust;
  • attempts to excuse, minimise and romanticise rape;
  • assumes that only 'attractive' women are raped;
  • disregards elements of power, aggression, violence, control and humiliation in rape; and
  • attempts to remove the responsibility for the rape from the rapist.

Facts:

  • research and evidence from rapists themselves suggests that most rapes are premeditated and planned;
  • many rapists fail to get an erection or ejaculate;
  • interviews with rapists reveal that they rape to feel powerful and in control, not for sexual pleasure;
  • there is no typical victim of rape. Girls and boys and women and men of all ages can be victims; and
  • many rapists are involved in sexually satisfying relationships with their partners at the time of the rape.

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Myth 5: If She Didn't Scream, Fight or Get Injured, It Wasn't Rape

Implications:

  • disbelieves and re-traumatises the victim;
  • invalidates the experience of the victim; and
  • discourages him or her from seeking help.

Facts:

  • victims in rape situations are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured and so co-operate with the rapist to save their lives;
  • the victims perception of threat influences their behaviour;
  • rapists use many manipulative techniques to intimidate and coerce their victims;
  • victims in a rape situations often become physically paralysed with terror or shock and are unable to move or fight; and
  • non-consensual intercourse doesn't always leave visible signs on the body or the genitals.

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Myth 6: You Can Tell if She's 'Really' Been Raped by How She Acts

Implications:

  • disbelieves and re-traumatises the victim;
  • invalidates the victims experience and individuality; and
  • discourages him or her from seeking help.

Facts:

  • reactions to rape are highly varied and individual; and
  • many women experience a form of shock after a rape that leaves them emotionally numb or flat - and apparently calm.

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Myth 7: Women Cry Rape When They Regret Having Sex or Want Revenge

Implications:

  • reinforces stereotypes of the 'vindictive woman';
  • reinforces stereotypes of women as untruthful;
  • re-victimises and stigmatises the victim; and
  • undermines her support for seeking justice

Facts:

  • Between January 2011 and May 2012, the DPP required CPS areas to refer to him all cases involving an allegedly false allegation of rape and/or domestic violence.  During that time, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape but only 35 for making false allegations of rape.

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Myth 8: Only Gay Men Get Raped/Only Gay Men Rape Men

Implications:

  • reinforces homophobic fears and prejudices;
  • creates the illusion of the safety for straight men;
  • re-traumatises and stigmatises male survivors; and
  • results in very few reported rapes on men.

Facts:

  • men of all sexual orientations get raped;
  • men who rape other men are often heterosexual - they usually have a relationship with a woman; and
  • rapists rape other men as part of their violence and need for power, dominance and control.

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Myth 9: Prostitutes Cannot be Raped

Implications:

  • further disempowers sex workers; and
  • provides an excuse for abuse

Facts:

  • prostitutes have the same rights with regards to consent as anyone else: the transactions they negotiate with clients are for consensual activities, not rape.

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Myth 10: If the victim didnt complain immediately it wasnt rape

Implications:

  • disbelieves and re-traumatises the victim;
  • invalidates the experience of the victim; and
  • discourages him or her from seeking help.

Facts:

  • the trauma of rape can cause feelings of shame and guilt which might inhibit a victim from making a complaint. This fact was recognised by the Court of Appeal in R v D (JA) October 24 2008, where it was held that judges are entitled to direct juries that due to shame and shock, victims of rape might not complain for some time, and that a late complaint does not necessarily mean that its a false complaint.

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Crown Court Bench Book

In 2010 the Judicial Studies Board published the Crown Court Bench Book setting out specimen directions for use by judges in the Crown Court.
See: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/BE25EBB6-AAD2-4ACD-8115-28D3BF613164/0/benchbook_criminal_2010.pdf

Chapter 17 The Trial of Sexual Offences - is particularly useful for prosecutors, addressing myths, stereotypes and generalisations that may influence jury members in their deliberations. Trial advocates should be reminded to suggest appropriate directions from the Bench Book to the trial judge for inclusion in his/ her summing up to the jury.

Their inclusion in the Bench Book does not give the specimen directions the force of law. This will be conferred at such time as the Court of Appeal approves the contents of a specific direction (or directions) in a Judgement.

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