Handout 2: Myths and realities of rape
(Extracted from Technical Guidelines for Overseas Medical Staff; developed by Medical Services)
In the United States, many of the attitudes and laws concerning rape are beginning to change from viewing the victim as somehow responsible to viewing this act as a crime. Medical care is also improving. However, most Americans have grown up with conscious or unconscious awareness of many common myths concerning rape. The more common of these, along with the facts based on U.S. statistics, are listed below:
- Myth - Sex is the primary motive for rape.
Fact - Studies show that the major motives for rape are aggression, anger, and hostility, not sex.
- Myth - Rape is an impulse act.
Fact - The majority of all rapes are planned - both the victim and the place.
- Myth - Rape usually occurs between perfect strangers.
Fact - Studies show that in most cases the assailant and the victim are acquaintances, if not friends and relatives. In many cases, the assailant has had prior dealings with the victim, for example, he may be an ax-boyfriend, a neighbor, a friend of a friend, maintenance man, or a co-worker.
- Myth - Women who are raped are asking for it. Any woman could prevent a rape if she really wanted to, since no woman can be raped against her will.
Fact - In about 87% of all rapes, the rapist either carried a weapon or threatened the victim with death. The primary reaction of almost all women to the attack is fear for their lives. Most women, even if not paralyzed by fear are physically unable to fight off a sexual assault. Submission does not imply a desire to be assaulted.
- Myth - Only young, good-looking girls get raped.
Fact - The average age of victims is between 19 and 26 years old. However, victims have ranged in age from 6 months to 97 years.
- Myth - Mode of dress, such as short skirts, no bra etc. increase a woman's chance of being raped.
Fact - Any woman regardless of dress, age or attractiveness may become a rape victim. Rapists are not out for sexual gratification and most are not sexually aroused at the time of the assault.
- Myth - Rape cannot happen to me.
Fact- Rape can happen to all women, regardless of age, social class, race or personal appearance.
It is important to be aware of these myths and the facts because most Volunteers will have to resolve these attitudes in dealing with themselves, or others, as victims.
Each country carries its own cultural attitudes about rape. It is crucial that both the Medical Officer and any other staff who might deal with the rape victim be aware of both the myths and the realities of their own culture. These include views about "Western woman", such as "all Western women are promiscuous" or "Western women come to our culture because they want to make love with us". These cultural myths are powerful, but equally so is the old medical myth that a healthy adult woman cannot be forcibly raped with full penetration of the vagina unless she actively cooperates. This myth does not consider the emotional reactions, such as fear and panic, or logical reactions, such as submissiveness, to protect life. The use of weapons, fist, or threats by the offender are not acknowledged in the myth. Each Peace Corps Volunteer rape victim has reported the fear of being killed at the time of assault. This is the primary reality to keep in mind when preparing to treat a victim of sexual assault. She has just experienced a terrifying sense of helplessness with thoughts of losing her life.
Motivations for Sexual Violence. To appreciate what the victim experiences, the probable motivations of the offender must be understood. The rapist is commonly portrayed as a lustful man who is the victim of a provocative woman, or he is seen as a sexually frustrated man reacting under the pressure of his pent-up needs, or he is thought to be a demented sex fiend harboring insatiable and perverted desires. The misconception common to these views is that they all assume the offender's behavior is primarily motivated by sexual desire, and that rape is directed toward gratifying only this sexual need. To the contrary, clinical studies of offenders in the United Stated reveal that rape serves primarily non-sexual needs. It is the sexual expression of power and anger. Forcible sexual assault is motivated more by retaliatory and compensatory motives than by sexual ones. Thus, "rape is a pseudosexual act, complex and multidetermined, but addressing issues of hostility (anger) and control (power) more than passion (sexuality)."
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