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Myths About Sexual Violence

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There’s a perfect victim.
It is common for survivors to feel that they have done something wrong to cause their assault, and to worry about what people will think of them. The court of public opinion is on the hunt for a survivor that is worthy of our sympathy, a victim who no one would find at fault. No matter what someone has done or failed to do, they did not cause their sexual assault, they did not deserve it, and they are worthy of support.

Victims of sexual assault should not shower, should go to the hospital, and should report their assault.
DCRCC asserts that each person is the authority of what is best for them, and what they need when they are in crisis. For some survivors, seeking medical attention and reporting their assault is the chosen response in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault. In those situations, we advise that they not shower to preserve evidence. However, we do not offer direct advice to a survivor or make a decision of how to respond on their behalf.

There’s a right way to heal.
When someone breaks a bone or gets a cut, we know how to support them in their healing and what is required to reduce their pain. It is not always obvious to us what someone needs when recovering from a sexual assault and survivors may struggle to access tools and information. What each person needs is unique to them and within that person’s journey what they need might change. DCRCC asserts that each person has the innate ability to heal from sexual violence, and that there are as many different healing experiences as there are people.

Some sexual assaults are worse.
We have a tendency to define situations and compare them against the worst case scenario. By this logic, sexual assault is viewed on a continuum that purports that some experiences count while other ‘aren’t bad enough’. Any form of sexual violence is a traumatic experience that causes harm to the survivor. There is no fair way to compare experiences or quantify suffering.

The body naturally fights back.
Survivors can harbor a lot of shame about how they responded to their sexual assault, believing that they should have done more to prevent the violence from continuing. It is important to understand that the body has a variety of responses to threatening situations, and that we do not consciously control our survival reactions.

Anyone can perpetrate sexual violence.
There are a lot of myths and assumptions about who commits sexual violence and how to recognize, avoid and punish those individuals. Sexual violence refers to behaviors, not to body parts, personality traits, or groups of people. Sexual violence is the misuse of power sexually to control or coerce another person. Any person can violate the consent of another person. We cannot label a particular group of people as rapists and potential rapists and the identity of the alleged perpetrator does not determine the credibility of the accusation.

Consent is obvious.
The most common script that we use for consent tells us that “we opt in by not opting out”. In this script, we are waiting for a person to tell us to stop, rather than asking them if it’s ok to start or keep going. This script is confusing and interpretive, and makes it hard to develop practical and clear communication. DCRCC asserts that consent is a series of negotiations given freely and communicated each time based on a shared understanding of circumstances. Consent happens in relationship and builds safety and connection. When consent is obvious, we check in with each other, ask questions and leave room for answers to change.

A loved one of a survivor of sexual assault can seek counseling.
Sexual assault impacts survivors and the people who love and relate to them. When we learn that someone we care about has been assaulted, we can feel a lot of painful emotions from anger, guilt, worry, confusion and shock. It is important to find outlets to process these feelings that allow you to better provide the survivor with compassionate and informed support, and provide you with what you need to heal. Loved ones of survivors, often called secondary survivors, can receive support through DCRCC’s therapeutic services and crisis hotline.

You can tell what a survivor of sexual assault looks like.
One of the things that can be challenging for survivors is that often the impact of a sexual assault isn’t easily visible. Survivors may be secretive, silent, in shock, desensitized, embarrassed and ashamed of their experiences. These reactions contribute to a reluctance to disclose, resulting in misconceptions about who victims are, what they struggle with, and how often sexual assaults occur. Sexual violence crosses all boundaries and impacts all communities and identities, regardless of age, gender identity or expression, class, religious affiliation, education level, race, sexual orientation, dating status, ability level, sex, attractiveness, and immigration status.

Everybody wants their experience labeled.
It is tempting when we educate about sexual assault to assume that survivors easily see themselves and relate to the definitions. More often, survivors believe that what they experienced was not what they view as sexual violence. Some survivors will never identify with or accept the label or sexual violence to define or describe their experience. DCRCC asserts that it is important that we allow survivors to label their experiences and mirror the language that is most comfortable for each person.

Empowerment is telling your story.
As activists, educators, friends and advocates we want survivors to know that they are not alone, and we seek to encourage them to join a community and share their stories. For many survivors, this is an important part of healing that builds trust and self knowledge. For other survivors, the pressure to disclose fuels resentment or puts them at greater risk for harm. Sharing traumatic experiences can be painful and even dangerous without the right support and preparation. The choice to share or not share an experience of sexual violence is decided by a survivor. Protecting a survivor’s right to choose, whether it is telling their story, setting a goal, ending a relationship or trying something new communicates that they are really in control.

Sexual violence is physical.
Many forms of sexual violence are physical violations, but other examples of sexual violence don’t involve any form of touch. Sharing or sending a person’s photo without permission, talking about someone in a sexually explicit way, depriving someone of privacy, threatening someone on social media, spreading a rumor, all of these are examples of minimized forms of sexual violence that can be traumatic. Regardless of whether or not a survivor sustained physical injuries, harm was done and a violation occurred.