Sexual misconduct myths and facts
Examining beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions
Click on the drop-down menus below for information about some commonly-held sexual misconduct myths:
1. Most sexual assaults are done by strangers
In most cases of sexual assault, the offender is known to the survivor – an employer, co-worker, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, neighbour, or relative.
We tend to think of sexual assaults as occurring in a dark alley in the middle of the night, but in fact this type of sexual assault is rare.
Source: Sexual Assault Myths and Facts.(Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2009)
(Statistics Canada. (2010). The Nature of Sexual Offenses)
In 2007, police forces reported that in 82% of sexual assaults the victim knew the perpetrator and in 18% of incidents, the accused was a stranger or recent acquaintance to the victim.
- 31% of accused are family members.
- 28% are casual acquaintances.
- 8% were identified as friends.
- 6% were identified as authority figures.
- 5% were current or former boyfriends/girlfriends.
- 4% were business acquaintances.
2. Most victims can prevent the assault from taking place by resisting
Assailants commonly overpower victims through threats and intimidation tactics.
A person might not fight back for any number of reasons, including fear or incapacitation. Silence or the absence of resistance does not mean that the victim is giving consent.
3. If it's a sexual assault, it means that someone was beaten
It’s commonly believed that sexual assault always involves penetration and the survivor is beaten and bleeding, or threatened with a weapon.
Fact: According to the Criminal Code of Canada, sexual assault is any sexual activity without consent, regardless of whether there are physical injuries or a weapon used.
4. Young, physically attractive women are assaulted because of how they look
The belief that only young, pretty women are sexually assaulted stems from the myth that sexual assault is based on sex and physical attraction. Women of all ages and appearances, and of all classes, cultures, abilities, genders, sexualities, races and religions are raped. Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. Sexual assault victims come from all walks of life, regardless of age, sex, class, race, religion, sexual identity, occupation or physical appearance. What a woman was wearing when she was raped or how she behaved is irrelevant.
5. Men don’t get sexually assaulted
While it’s commonly believed that “real” or “tough” men don’t get sexually assaulted, in the 12 months prior to completing the Statistics Canada Survey on sexual misconduct in the CAF, more men than women reported being a victim of sexual assault (570 men and 380 women).
As well, a man’s physical strength does not necessarily protect him from being raped. A sexual assault can be committed through coercion or manipulation, can involve objects, or can be drug- or alcohol-facilitated.
6. If you were sexually assaulted, you wouldn’t be talking to the perpetrator the next day
There are many reasons why a survivor might maintain a relationship with someone who has assaulted them. The survivor might feel their safety would be threatened if they ended the relationship. The survivor may be unable to avoid the perpetrator if they live together, work together, are in class together, or have the same social circles. Or the survivor might still be defining and trying to understand what’s happened to them. Because many survivors knew the perpetrator before being assaulted, survivors may be trying to negotiate the conflicting thoughts and feelings they have about their perpetrator.
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience, and one common reaction to the overwhelming thoughts and feelings of trauma is to attempt to forget that the situation happened and to move on. Survivors often feel social pressure to act like everything is okay, regardless of what they actually feel. The important thing to remember is that people cope with traumatic incidents in different ways.
7. A substantial number of sexual assault reports are false
False accusations of sexual assault are extremely rare (only 2-4%). Research demonstrates that rates of false reporting are consistent across violent crimes, including sexual assault.
Because of the cognitive dissonance that occurs when we hear about rape, it’s difficult for people to believe that it can be true. But it’s important to remember that each individual’s personal reaction is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing for the survivor. Knowing how to respond is critical—a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences for their crimes. If someone confides in you that they were sexually assaulted, believe them.
- Lonsway, K., Archambault, J., & Lisak, D. (2009). False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute NonStranger Sexual Assault. The Voice, 3(1).
- Ontario Women’s Directorate. Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives: Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan.
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
8. Sexual assault and rape are the same thing
A common misunderstanding is that “sexual assault” is synonymous with “rape”. It is not. Sexual assault covers any intentional (as opposed to accidental) and non- consensual physical contact with another person, even a gentle touch, when it is done in circumstances of a sexual nature such that the sexual integrity of the complainant/victim is violated.
9. The majority of sexual assaults involve alcohol or drugs
Four in ten (40%) women and one-quarter (25%) of men who were sexually assaulted in the past 12 months believed that the incident was related to the perpetrator’s alcohol or drug use. The consumption of alcohol at CAF-sanctioned or CAF-related events had been previously cited by several members as a factor which contributed to the overall occurrence of sexual assault or sexual harassment within the CAF (Deschamps 2015). That said, 54% of sexual assault incidents in the general population were perceived to be related to the drug or alcohol use of the perpetrator (Perreault 2015).
Statistics Canada. (2016). Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, 2016. Pg. 20.
On the subject of drugs, despite popular belief, alcohol, not Rohypnol or other “date rape drugs”, is the most common drug involved in drug-facilitated sexual assault.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. (2012). The hard facts. Retrieved on October 28, 2013.
10. The vast majority of sexual assaults are committed against younger members
In the CAF, the reality is that approximately 50% of sexual assaults are committed against members under-30 years of age.
Statistics Canada. (2016). Sexual Misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, 2016. Pg. 14.
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