Friday, April 15, 2011

Rape Myths Part II

This is the second in our series of posts examining rape myths in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For the first, challenging the idea that women are responsible for their sexual assaults, click here.

Many people believe that false reports of rape are common. There are usually two thoughts processes behind that, both of which are grounded in a system that values men more highly than women.

First, when it comes to date rape, many people assume that the sex or sexual act was consensual at the time, but that the woman wakes up the next morning regretting it and changes her story. This is similar to arguing that a woman lies about consensual sex, calling it rape, when her husband or father finds out and she wants to avoid their disapproval. The entire argument hinges on one belief: women are liars.

If we don't believe that women are liars, we believe that men are actually capable of sexual assault. But, because our society values men more highly than we do women, we have more invested in believing that men are innocent. It is easier for us to believe something negative about a woman than it is for us to believe something negative about a man. It is easier for us to think that the average woman is capable of trying to ruin a man's life by falsely accusing him of a horrible crime than it is for us to think that the average man is capable of raping.

This leads very logically into the next thought process. We want to believe that men who are rapists are easy to identify and thus easy to avoid. It's a form of self-protection, similar to that which causes us to wrongfully believe that women are at least partially responsible for their rapes. But men who rape don't wear signs around their necks or have tattoos that say "dangerous". Men who rape can be creepy or charming, ugly or handsome, young or old, rich or poor, of any race or ethnicity, religious or not religious, etc. These men could be your fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, bosses, faith leaders, or anyone else. But, because we don't want to believe that the men we love and respect could be violent, it is easier for us to think that women are liars. Because we want to think we are safe from sexual assault because we don't know anyone capable of doing something so horrible, it is easier for us to do something horrible - revictimize a sexual assault victim by accusing her of lying.

In reality, false reports are not common. There aren't many studies done on the issue, and thus stats are hard to come by, but some reports have found that false reports of sexual assault are as low as 1.6%. That same study found false reports of auto theft to be 2.6% of total reports.

Compare that to the fact that 1 in 20 college-age men will admit to raping someone in anonymous surveys, as long as the word "rape" isn't used in the description of the act.*

*We'll explore this stat in a later post.

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