Let’s Talk About YES: how to debunk myths and avoid stereotypes

The so-called “rape culture” that normalizes and even justifies sexual violence, including rape, in our societies is underpinned and perpetuated by harmful myths and gender stereotypes.  

Rape can occur in all kinds of circumstances. The only way to know that it is not rape is if free consent has been given to the acts by both parties. Clothing, past behaviour, or marriage do not constitute consent.

It is important that our activism and conversations contribute to debunking “rape myths” and not to reinforcing them.

Be aware that “myth busters” can unintentionally reinforce them. By putting excessive attention on the “myths”, we can contribute to spreading them further. There is a risk that the myth is what people will remember, not the ‘busting’ part.

If you’ve created content to share, consider carefully whether your artwork, messages and comments might inadvertently be using or reinforcing misconceptions or stereotypes about gender, sex, consent or others. If in doubt, check them with other people before sharing them publicly.

Here are some facts to respond to some common “rape myths” and stereotypes:

  • How someone dresses, how much alcohol they choose to drink, who they choose to go out with, how they behave, how they choose to live their life, does not make them responsible if they get raped. The only person to blame for rape is the perpetrator.
  • Rape is a violation of another person’s bodily integrity and sexual autonomy, and as such is a criminal offence brought about by the acts of the rapist, NOT of the victim. (In response to: “She was asking for it because of her clothes”; “They were being flirty”; “Even if it was rape, it’s the victim’s own fault”; “Sex workers can’t be raped”, etc.) 
  • It is the responsibility of both parties to ensure the other is consenting. The absence of a “no” is not a “yes” – only an enthusiastic “yes” means “yes”. There are several reasons why someone might not be able to say “no”, and different people react differently when they experience sexual violence. (In response to: “They didn’t say no”; “They didn’t protest” and “There wasn’t violence”.)
  • While the majority of victims of rape are women and girls, anyone, of any gender, can be a victim. (In response to: “Men can’t get raped”.)
  • Going on a date with someone, going home with them, or previous sexual relationships do not necessarily mean that consent to sex has been given on the occasion in question. (In response to: “‘They had consented to sex last week, therefore, today was also consented”.)
  • Most often, perpetrators are victims’ partners, ex-partners or friends. (In response to: “Most rapes are committed by strangers, someone that the victim doesn’t know, a clearly and totally ‘bad person’; “A person cannot sexually assault a partner or a spouse”.) 
  • Most often, rape happens at the victim’s home, somewhere nearby or at a home of someone they know. (In response to: “Many people believe that sexual violence and rapes only happen at night, in public or outdoors, in some dark places like alleys, forests, parks”.)
  • Raping someone is a crime which may cause profound harm. It’s often thought that rape is not a “real crime”, or that victims report rape simply when they feel regret about having had sex BUT it’s the physical and emotional effects of being raped, and the assault on bodily integrity and sexual autonomy, which makes rape criminal. (In response to: “‘It is only unwanted sex”.)
  • Victims must show great courage and strength to report an assault to the police. Victims deserve to be believed, they must receive the support to which they are entitled and the facts they report must be the subject of a thorough investigation. (In response to: “A lot of victims lie about being raped/harassed and give false reports for revenge, or because they do not want to admit to a relationship”; “Women like to take revenge”.)
  • Most survivors do not report the rape. Those who do report or tell their stories often do so several weeks, months or even years after the rape. Their experiences are still valid and important. (In response to: ʺA ‘real’ survivor of sexual assault always reports it immediately” – see #WhyIDidntReport on Twitter.)
  • Rape is much more common than people think and affects women in a disproportionate manner. In the EU, 1 in 20 women aged 15 and over have been raped. That is around 9 million women. And 1 in 10 women aged 15 and over in the EU have experienced some form of sexual violence. (In response to: “Rapes don’t happen often”.)
  • It’s important that we acknowledge the gendered nature of rape and adopt a gender-sensitive approach, while considering also the specific needs of different groups of victims of sexual violence. The measures which can empower women and girls will also benefit men, non-binary people and people of all genders who experience sexual violence. (In response to: “Why are you only talking about women? Men get raped too”.)
  • Sex workers have the right to give and withhold consent to any sexual activity, and therefore, can be raped just like anyone else. When sex workers negotiate paid-for sex, this involves consensual activities, not rape or violence. (In response to: “Sex workers cannot be victims of sexual assault”.)

Now you know how to talk about consent and create content, you might feel ready to widen the conversations by running a workshop – either on your own or in a group. The next blog will cover becoming a “multiplier” – how to encourage conversations and creative expression via workshops.