Myths About Sexual Abuses

Despite the great strides which have been made in educating the general public about abuse of all kinds, myths still persist. I have outlined (and, hopefully, helped debunk) some myths about emotional abuse in other sections of these pages. This page is about some of the myths and realities of sexual abuse. Most resources I've looked at have a pretty standard list of what is myth and what is reality -- things like, "NO means NO", no victim ever deserves it, and so on. These things are true, and I have included some of them here.

But there are a lot of truths which don't seem to make it into general public knowledge. I hope to include many of those as well.

A note on my personal vocabulary: I use the phrase "sexual abuse" to mean any sexual act taken against someone else which harms the recipient. It's a pretty general definition, but I intend it to cover as many sexual crimes and violations as possible: stranger rape, date rape, molestation, incest, covert incest (also known as "emotional incest"), sexual assault, sexual harrassment, and any other sexual violation as defined by both personal idiom and public law.

Myths and Realities

MYTH: Sexual abuse can be justified under certain circumstances. REALITY: Sexual abuse is NEVER justified. EVER. It's not okay to use and abuse people sexually. PERIOD. Notice that I say "justified" and not "excused" -- I do think there is one (and ONLY one) situation wherein sexual abuse of another person can be excused, and that is when one person is forced to abuse another, by someone else with much more power. This frequently happens in ritual abuse situations, where one child is perhaps forced to abuse another child, or else risk further abuse for themselves. I would like to emphasize that THIS IS NOT THE CHILD'S FAULT. Other situations might be if someone is forced at gunpoint to have sex with an unwilling participant. The idea is that the actual perpetrator is NOT the person being forced to perform the act in question, but the person who is forcing them to do so.

MYTH: It isn't rape if the victim is unconscious/drunk/dressed like a slut/desperate/a woman/insert your favorite special qualifier here. REALITY: If the victim is somehow unwilling to have sex, whether they're unconscious or tired or don't feel like it or you're just not their type, and they are forced or coerced into doing so anyway, it's rape. It doesn't matter if they are a hooker, or a drunk sorority girl, or a gay man, or a teen with Down's Syndrome -- rape is rape. The same is true of sexual abuse and sexual harrassment.

MYTH: Sexual abuse is always violent. REALITY: Sexual abuse is a violent crime, this is true. But the manner in which it is inflicted doesn't have to involve violence at all. A perpetrator doesn't have to use a weapon or beat their victim into submission in order to achieve their end. Incest, for example, can involve the subtle seduction of a child, through what amounts to brainwashing. A child may exist in a family where the only touch and love s/he gets is from sexual abuse. They may be rewarded with treats or extra love and attention when they are sexual with adults, or bribed to keep silent in the same manner. Or sexual abuse can be entirely verbal, with the perpetrator's main weapon being words (such as inappropriate sexual comments, or an overly invasive interest in the victim's body and sexuality). In many instances, the perpetrator doesn't even have to touch the victim at all -- leaving pornography around the house (spread out, open, on the coffee table) where children have easy, involuntary access to it is WAY out of line.

Other situations in which violence is not involved include those times when a victim chooses to submit to their attacker. This may be done because the victim is threatened with death or bodily harm unless they acquiesce, or because the victim realizes there really is nothing they can do to prevent the crime from occuring. Or perhaps the victim submits because the attacker threatens harm to someone else if the victim doesn't comply. I would like to point out: SUBMISSION DOES NOT EQUAL CONSENT. More on this later.

MYTH: Sexual abuse never involves pleasure for the victim. REALITY: Many adult survivors report a deep sense of shame, because as children they were sexually abused, and they felt some pleasure while it was happening. Perhaps the abuse was the only affection they got, perhaps it was soothing, perhaps the perpetrator got off on making the victim feel pleasure, whatever. Just because the victim felt pleasure, that doesn't mean that they weren't horribly violated. Human bodies are designed to feel pleasure and respond in particular ways to particular kinds of touch. If a victim's body responds, it doesn't negate the abuse. The violation is still there: the perpetrator is still using the victim for their own ends, and has still usurped the victim's free will and right to let their own sexuality develop as it will.

MYTH: It isn't sexual abuse if the victim consented. REALITY: On the surface of it, this is a true statement; but the term "consent" must be strictly defined. Ideally, a consenting individual is fully aware of what they are doing, has a good grasp of the consequences, and is free from any manipulation or coercion to choose a certain way. If a person is NOT capable of knowing what they are getting into, THEN THEY HAVE NOT CONSENTED. Consequently, if a child victim of incest goes along with the abuse, even seeks it out, THEY ARE NOT CONSENTING, AND IT IS STILL ABUSE. The reason is that a child is not a fully sexual being. They aren't supposed to be. They are not fully aware of sex and all its complexities, and their own sexuality is supposed to be developing slowly and surely over the course of about eighteen years.

As mentioned above, a victim may also choose to go along with the abuse in order to ensure that they survive through it; but submission does not mean consent. If a gun is pointed at your head, and you're told to fuck your attacker or get your head blown off, the issue of consent doesn't even enter into it. How can you really make a choice, when one choice offered is death?

MYTH: You can't be sexually abused if you're married. REALITY: You sure as hell can be abused if you're married. Spouses are not immune from abusing, or from being abused. It is true that many states have laws which deny that a woman can be raped by her husband; but quite frankly, such laws are a load of crap. Violation is violation, even if it is allowed by law. If your spouse is pressuring, coercing, threatening, or somehow forcing you to have sex (violently or not), you are being raped. It doesn't matter if they've worked hard all day, it doesn't matter if they think it's your duty as a wife (or husband), it doesn't matter if they're drunk or haven't had sex for weeks -- nobody has the right to use your body if you don't want them to. I suspect such laws are based on the Biblical idea that once two people get married, they have authority over one another's bodies; however, I don't believe that means that they get to use each other indiscriminately. I suspect the idea behind it is that once you're married, no one else has the "right" to your partner's body -- that is, both of you will have no other sexual partners besides each other, for as long as you're together. But that doesn't mean you get to force each other to have sex.

And if you really do love and cherish your spouse, why the hell would you treat them like a sex object??

MYTH: Only men can be abusers, and only women can be victims. REALITY: This is blatantly not true. At least, it isn't an absolute. True, the "classic" abuse case involves a female victim and a male perpetrator; and perhaps most people think of abuse in such terms because there is certainly an imbalance of male power in modern American society today. However, just because men happen to be on top in a broad sense doesn't mean that men can't be abused as individuals. And just because women are on the bottom in a broad sense doesn't mean that women can't be perps.

One of my best friends is a male survivor, abused as a child by a male perp. I myself had at least one female abuser. I have personally met many, many survivors who were abused by their mothers. I have also met a good many male survivors, abused both by men and by women. The statistics are small, but it does happen.

MYTH: If a sexual crime isn't proven by law, then it never happened. REALITY: Law is a very imperfect thing. It is an imperfect system designed by imperfect people, in order to try and provide some kind of framework for basic conduct in an imperfect world. And even the best of legal systems are not guaranteed to discover the truth about a given case.

If the state takes your perpetrator to court, and they find him or her Not Guilty (or Not Proven, or the equivalent for your country's judicial system), that DOES NOT mean that you weren't violated, or that the crime never actually occurred: what it means is that it couldn't be proven in court. It does not mean the victim was a liar, it doesn't mean that the perpetrator never did anything wrong, it doesn't mean that the victim has no right to feel outraged, it simply means that courts of law require very specific types of evidence in order to prove a case -- and often, in sexual crimes cases, it is a case of one person's word against another. Maybe the statute of limitations has run out. Maybe they didn't have enough hard evidence. Maybe the perpetrator is such a good liar that they had everyone fooled. Maybe they got off on a technicality beyond your control. IT DOESN'T MEAN THAT THE ABUSE NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

In a similar vein, just because your experience can't be defined by legal codes or proven in a court of law, that doesn't mean it wasn't real. Maybe your memory is foggy enough that you don't remember your perpetrator's face. Maybe your experience doesn't fit the law word-for-word, because of an age difference. Maybe what happened to you was fuzzy and inexact. So what? If you did not consent fully, and if you feel you were violated, it still "counts" despite what the law says. It just means you may not be able to prosecute successfully. Memory is an inexact science -- you may remember that something happened to you, and you may remember what it was, but it is hard to make memory alone stand up in a court of law. You can still heal, you can still believe in what happened, and you can still feel angry about it. The law doesn't matter in terms of your personal recovery. (Just don't go in for vigilante justice.)

MYTH: It could never happen to me. REALITY: Oh, yes it could! Whether you're a man, a woman, black, white, Asian, gay, straight, lesbian, sexually active, a nun, a cop, a student, or the leader of the free world, rape or abuse sure could happen to you. It is much more comfortable to believe that you are immune to being raped or assaulted; believing that you couldn't be raped because you're too nice or too white or too rich or too uptight or too whatever probably gives a person a nice false sense of security. "I couldn't be raped," you might think, "because I never go out at night alone." "I couldn't be raped," you might say, "because I'm a man." "I couldn't be raped," you might believe, for any of a number of highly superstitious reasons. And it's quite understandable that you might try to protect yourself from such fear, through the powerful spell of denial.

But the fact of the matter is, you CAN be raped, no matter who you are. You CAN be assaulted or abused, no matter what. If someone really is out to get you, they can do it. And it doesn't matter if they're a stranger or not, either.

There are no 100% guarantees that you will be safe. However, there are definitely steps you can take to increase your safety level, and reduce your risk of being assaulted or abused. Standard stuff like never going out at night alone or keeping your doors locked are a place to begin. Trusting your gut and staying away from people who make you feel creepy or unsafe is another level of safety. Check your local library, rape relief line, or crisis line for references about personal safety. It's a beautiful world out there, but it's also a violent one. Use your head.

If there are any atypical myths that you can think of that I haven't included here, feel free to mail me, and I'll include it.

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