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Myths, prejudices and truths

Prevalent attitudes and behaviours normalize, minimize and trivialize sexual violence. Common myths and prejudices create doubt in the minds of people who have experienced sexual violence, reinforce the negative perception of victims, and absolve perpetrators of sexual violence of any responsibility for their actions.

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The true and false of sexual violence

TRUE: “Victims are never responsible for the sexual violence done to them.”

No one ever asks to be subjected to sexual violence.

In the case of adults:

Hitch-hiking, going out late at night, using alcohol or drugs, dressing in a seductive manner, wanting to have sex with someone or going home with them: none of these behaviours may be considered to be provocation.

In the case of children:

The expression of adult sexual behaviour in children may be an indication of prior sexual violence and in no way justifies sexual violence done to children.

FALSE: “People report cases of sexual violence without justification.”

Only 1 out of 20 incidences of sexual violence is reported to the police (source: Statistics Canada). Victims do not always remember all the details of their assault; alcohol or drugs, fear or distress can affect our memory. Failure to remember exactly what happened during a sexual assault cannot be used to discredit a victim’s report.

FALSE: “All you have to do to escape a situation of sexual exploitation is to tell someone about it.”

Pimps use a wide variety of pressure tactics to maintain a hold on their victims, including manipulation, blackmail and violence. Victims often fear reprisals from the authorities or their entourage. They may also not be aware of their rights or of the existence of resources that can help them.

FALSE: “It was my partner, so it wasn’t really sexual assault.”

Regardless of the relationship between the two people and whether consent was given in the past, it is the duty of the partner initiating sexual activity to obtain the other person’s consent every time.

Sexual consent is clear, enthusiastic agreement given by the person involved at the time of participation in a sexual activity. Consent may be withdrawn at any time.

FALSE: “There was no doubt that he was physically aroused, so he obviously consented.”

Genital stimulation can provoke involuntary physiological and sensory reactions like arousal (e.g., an erection) regardless of the victim’s age or gender. Children, especially boys, may experience pleasure, but that does not mean they consented to the activity. This kind of prejudice can cause victims to feel guilt and confusion.

FALSE: “Boys who are sexually assaulted by men will automatically become gay.”

Homophobia reinforces the silence of men and boys because they fear even more reprisals if they reveal that they were sexually violated by a man. A boy’s sexual or gender identity will not be determined by their experience of sexual violence perpetrated by a man.

TRUE: “People who commit an act of sexual violence are generally known to the victim.”

Whether the victim is an adult, a teen or a child, they often know the person who committed the act of sexual violence. That applies to 82% of the assaults reported to the police (source: Statistics Canada). The person responsible for the sexual violence often takes advantage of their relationship of trust or authority with the victim. The perpetrator may be a partner or a relation, but may also be a trusted professional, such as a therapist, doctor, psychiatrist, trainer or teacher.

FALSE: “She seemed awfully calm when she told us about it. Hard to believe that she was really sexually assaulted.”

Every person is unique and reacts in their own way. That reaction may depend on the context of their specific experience of sexual violence, the reactions of those close to them on hearing their story, and the personal resources available to them.

When a victim appears calm when relating what happened to them, those listening may wonder if it was really sexual violence that they experienced, because many people think (wrongly) that all victims should be angry or in a state of panic. Remaining extremely calm is a frequent reaction, however, when we feel we are in danger or are dealing with a difficult situation.

TRUE: “Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence at some point during their life.”

Although there is a higher proportion of children and adolescents among victims of sexual violence, sexual violence can happen to anyone, even the elderly.

Similarly, even though victims are usually women, men are also victims of sexual violence. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at greater risk of being subjected to sexual violence than are cisgender heterosexuals.

There is also a larger proportion of sexual violence victims among people who have mental health problems or an intellectual disability, women with a physical or sensory disability, persons who provide sexual services in return for payment, homeless people, Indigenous people and racialized people.

N.B.: None of the above risk factors may in any way be used to blame the victims for the sexual violence they experience. The person who commits the act of violence is always responsible.

FALSE: “I can’t believe he was accused of sexual violence! He’s such a nice guy.”

Most of the time, a person who commits sexual assault is well integrated in society. They may very well be charming people who are respected members of their community. Although people with delinquent sexual behaviours are more likely to present a set of personal and relationship difficulties, including such mental health problems as depression, anxiety or a personality disorder, most of them function normally in society (source: INSPQ).