Sexual Assault Misconceptions

Common Misconceptions


Myth: Sexual assault is often committed by strangers.

Fact: Sexual assault is usually not committed by strangers. Sexual assault is most often not committed by strangers who jump out of bushes or wait in alleys for their victims. Over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim (friend, partner, service provider, neighbor, or family member.)


Myth: Sexual assault does not occur often.

Fact: A 1993 survey found that one half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. Almost 60% of these women were the targets of more than one of these incidents. Statistics also show that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In BC this number is almost double (47%).


Myth: Survivors lie about being sexually assaulted to get revenge, for their own benefit, or because they feel guilty after having sex.

Truth: Survivors rarely make false reports about sexual assault. Only 6% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. And false accusations of sexual assault happen no more than false reports of other types of crime: about 2% to 4%, which means 96% to 98% of the reports are true.


Myth: If a survivor chooses not to report their assault, then it must have not actually happened.

Truth: Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes. Canadian statistics tells us that the re-victimization of survivors has less than 10% of women who are sexually assaulted report the assault to the police: most survivors do not report due to humiliation or fear of re-victimization in the legal process. Which means that 9 out of 10 survivors never report their assault.

The numbers are even lower for level 1 sexual assaults (sexual touching, etc) where 96% went unreported. This could be due to harmful societal beliefs that lead survivors to question the validity or seriousness of their assault.

It is important to recognize that every individual affected by sexual assault may choose to report or not to report. Their decision does not affect the truth of what happened to them.

Myth: It’s only sexual assault if physical violence or weapons are used.

Truth: Many survivors are too afraid to struggle. They may freeze in terror or realize that the overwhelming size and strength of their attacker makes resistance very dangerous. In cases reported to police, 80% of sexual assault survivors knew their abusers. Acquaintances, friends, or relatives are more likely to use tricks, verbal pressure, threats, or mild force like arm twisting or pinning their victim down during an assault. Assaults may also be drug assisted. Lack of obvious physical injury or knowing the attacker does not change the fact that sexual assault is violent and against the law.

Myth: If it really happened, the survivor would be able to easily recount all the facts in the proper order.

Truth:  Shock, fear, embarrassment and distress can all impair memory. Additionally, many survivors actively attempt to minimize or forget the details of the assault to help them cope with its memory.

Myth: Experiencing sexual assault is not harmful in the long run.

Truth: Sexual assault can have serious effects on a survivors health and well being. People who have been sexually assaulted can feel fear, depression, and anger. Survivors can experience harmful physical and emotional effects regardless of the age at which the violence occurs, and their recovery processes can take months, or years. Sexual assault affects each individual differently, but there is no statute of limitation on how long it can take for them to heal.


Myth: Some people are less likely to be targeted for sexual assault: for example, men, lesbians, gay men, people who are gender variant, women of color, people with disabilities including psychiatric labels, transpeople, and sex workers.

Truth: Many of the above mentioned groups are at higher risk for any type of violence, including sexual violence.

Myth: At work, a certain amount of sexual banter, flirting, or jokes is "just part of the job."

Truth: Harassment in the workplace is a common abuse of authority. In a 1993 national survey, 23% of Canadian women reported that they had encountered work-related sexual harassment in their lifetime. Consent cannot be obtained by abusing a position of trust, power, or authority (for example, teachers, physicians, employers).


Myth: The best way for a person to protect themselves from sexual assault is to avoid being alone at night in dark, deserted places such as alleys, or parking lots.

Truth: The majority of sexual assaults happen during the day, by someone the survivor knows. At home Studies show that only 25% of assaults are committed by a stranger, and suggests that 85% of survivors knew their assailant, be that a friend, partner, service provider, family member, or acquaintance. Sexual Assault most often occurs in a private place, such as the residence of the survivor or perpetrator. However, it can also take place at public functions like parties, parks, and alleyways.

Myth: The primary motive for sexual assault is sex.

Truth: Studies show that the motive for sexual assault is power and control, not sex and that most perpetrators have other consenting sexual partners (i.e. boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives.) Sexual assault is a crime of violence, committed by a person who uses sex as a weapon.


Myth: Once a sexual assault report has been made, the alleged offender will be prosecuted and found guilty.

Truth: Sexual assault is a difficult crime to prove as there are rarely witnesses, there is not always physical evidence of the crime, and sexual assault myths affect the efficacy of the criminal justice system. The majority of all reported sexual assault cases are not resolved through the criminal justice system. According to Statistics Canada, only 6% of all assaults are reported to police. Of the 6% of sexual assaults that are reported, only 40% result in charges being laid; and of those cases where charges are laid, just two-thirds result in a conviction.


Myth: Saying “no” is the only way of expressing your desire to not continue.

Truth:  Many offenders will rationalize their behavior by saying that because the survivor did not say “no”, the perpetrator thought that consent was obtained. The law is clear: without consent, it is sexual assault.  Consent means saying "yes" to sexual activity.  In addition to saying "no", there are many other ways of communicating non-compliance:

  • “I’m not into this right now”
  • “Maybe later”
  • “I’m not sure”
  • Silence
  • Crying
  • Body language (squirming, stiffness, shaking)
  • If a person is too intoxicated to say "no", there is no consent
  • If a person is too scared to say "no", there is no consent
  • If a person is asleep or unconscious, there is no consent

Misconceptions about the use of alcohol and/or substances and sexual assault shifts the blame to the survivor. This minimizes the perpetrator’s responsibility for obtaining clear consent. Any altered state that inhibits someone’s ability to say 'no' does not constitute as consent.

Myth: A person who has agreed to sex previously with the offender (for example, their partner, an acquaintance, or a client who has paid for sexual services) cannot be sexually assaulted by that person.

Truth: Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual activity forced on one person by another. Sexual assault occurs whenever a person does not want to have sex but is forced into the act, regardless of previous consensual sexual relations. 38% of sexually assaulted women were assaulted by their husbands, common-law partners, or boyfriends. Although illegal in Canada since 1983, few of these assaults are reported to police.

Myth: If a person consents to have sex at the start of making out, but changes their mind, and their partner keesp going- then they are not sexually assaulted.

Truth: Consent is active and ongoing. This means that it ceases to be present if someone changes their mind. This also means that that person can say no to further continuance once any sexual activity has already begun.

Myth: If someone - for example, a partner, date or acquaintance − buys dinner or drinks, gives a present, or does a favour, the recipient owes them sex.

Truth:  No one owes anyone sex. It cannot be assumed that friendliness and openness are an invitation to sex.


Myth: If two people are married, or in a relationship, sex is an assumed part of the agreement.

Truth: Consent to any sexual activity can only be given by the individual regardless of context. Spousal relationships, including arranged marriage or any other relationship that implies indebtedness does not constitute consent to sexual activity. Sexual activity cannot be expected or condoned in advance.


Myth: People who have been sexually assaulted were “asking for it” by the way they dress, act, if they were drinking, or because they were out late.

Truth: No one asks for it. The idea that someone “asks for it” is often used by the offender to rationalize their behavior. It blames the survivor for the crime, not the offender.


Misconception: The best way for a person to protect themselves from sexual assault is to avoid being alone at night in dark, deserted places such as alleys, or parking lots.

  • Truth: 80% of reported sexual assaults are committed by someone the person knows, be that a friend, partner, service provider, family member, or acquaintance. Sexual Assault most often occurs in a private place, such as the residence of the survivor or perpetrator. However, it can also take place at public functions like parties, parks, and alleyways.


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