Why myths can make rape a crime that goes unpunished

Why myths can make rape a crime that goes unpunished
  • New campaign launched in Darlington and Co. Durham to raise awareness #NotAskingForIt
  • Only 15% of rape and sexual violence survivors will report their attacks to the Police

Rape and sexual violence have a devastating impact on the lives of survivors. But, their distress is made even worse by the myths they also have to face. They can even stop a perpetrator from being brought to justice. Currently, only 15% of rape and sexual violence survivors will report their attacks to the Police.

That’s why Darlington and Co. Durham’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre is launching a myth-busting two-week campaign – #NotAskingForIt – starting today. The campaign aims to challenge people’s understanding of rape myths by asking them to find the truth amongst the myths. It’s important that everyone takes time and review what we think we know about rape – especially as new myths continue to appear.

Perpetuated by unchallenged historic preconceptions, the media and popular culture, rape myths are often cited as an important factor in discouraging rape victims from reporting. This is often due to the non-supportive reactions and comments that they can encounter after disclosing their assault. With the result that they don’t think they will be believed. Their fear is that if their friends or family think that in some way they were responsible for the attack why shouldn’t the police or a jury?

Isabel Owens Deputy CEO, Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre Darlington and Co. Durham, who provide specialist counselling and support to survivors, commented:

Most people’s ideas about rape are shaped by cultural believes and what they see on TV and in the media. Therefore beliefs about who is raped, why, how and by whom tend to be formed by popular – albeit false cultural beliefs.” 

“Often these only serve the purpose of shifting the blame from the perpetrators to the survivors. However, we work with and support survivors and hear from them just how traumatic these myths are – not just at the time of their assault – but throughout their lives.” 

“Rape is never the survivors fault. What they wore, how much alcohol they had consumed and whether they were able to fight back are irrelevant. Nobody ever suggests a murder victim was ‘asking for it’. Rape is not an act of impulse or uncontrollable passion; it is an intentional act of violence. ” 

“And if a survivor feels guilt, or doesn’t think they will be believed, then they are unlikely to report the crime and we already know that rape is hugely under-reported. In addition, rape myths continue to be perpetuated in all areas of society, and by all ages. We should never forget that these are the people who make up our juries and whose views will help to form the decision as to whether a perpetrator is guilty or not.”

Rape myths would lead us to believe that no woman could let it happen to her – she shouldn’t have gone down that dark ally/worn that dress/drunk so much or they think the survivor is lying, or had created a situation whereby the man had to proceed to sex (she led him on or crying ‘rape’ when she changed her mind).

Isabel continued:

“For example, we still face the general belief that most perpetrators are strangers. However, in the last year, of the 759 survivors we have supported, over 82% of the perpetrators were known to them.”

“The campaign is not about shaming people, it aims to present the overwhelming facts in the face of centuries of myth-making. And it wants people to feel empowered to challenge these myths whenever they see and hear them. Rape does not happen to other people, it happens to us, our family members, our friends, our work colleagues. And we need to give them our support.”

The campaign will run across RSACC’s social media platforms for the next 16 days of action, as part of the International Day for the Eradication of Violence against Women. This is when thousands of people stand up, speak out and say no to violence against women. This year is more important than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic, when there has been a significant increase in violence, harassment and abuse towards women.  

Notes to Editors

  1. RSACC offers free, safe support to all women over 13 who have experienced any form of sexual abuse at any time in their lives. This includes a specialist counselling service, a dedicated Helpline and support for survivors in taking their perpetrators to court through an Independent Sexual Violence Adviser Service. 
  2. The Helpline number is 0300 222 5730. It operates Monday – Thursday 10am-2pm.
  3. Rape and sexual violence are the most under-reported crimes. 
  4. 99% of rapes reported to Police do not result in legal proceedings.
  5. In 2019, in the Durham Police area, just six rapists were found guilty out of 623 reports to the force
  6. On 19th October 2020 the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) replaced its previous guidance on rape and sexual offences. It includes a new Annex on Rape Myths and stereotypes. The Guidance is currently subject to a three-month public consultation.
  7. Latest figures on rape from the CPS show that  the number of people prosecuted and convicted for rape has fallen to the lowest level since records began.