Part of our work at Women and Girls Network is to challenge common myths about violence against women, and promote the facts about gendered violence. We do this in our everyday work with clients and agencies, and also through our training and prevention programmes in schools.
Below we have gathered some of the most common myths about violence against women, along with the facts.
MYTH: Violence is when someone is physically injured.
FACT: Violence against women extends beyond just the physical. Acts such as calling a woman names, constantly criticising her, forcing her to dress in a certain way, not allowing her to use contraception, forcing her to have abortions, isolating her from family and friends, pressurising her to get married, are all forms of violence against women. The impact of these actions are devastating and although they do not necessarily leave physical scars, the emotional and psychological trauma can take years to heal.
MYTH: Some religions state that violence against women and girls is okay.
FACT: No religion says it is okay to abuse women and girls. However some abusers try to use their own interpretation of their religion as a justification for violence. This interpretation may be supported by some members of the wider community but this does not mean that what they believe should be seen as more authentic or valid than other more progressive views. Domestic violence is a crime and is against the law and religion does not change that.
MYTH: Rape is horrific - but it’s not very common.
FACT: 3.7 million women in England and Wales have been sexually assaulted at some point since the age of 16. Around 10,000 women are sexually assaulted, and 2,000 women are raped, every week. 34% of all rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under 16 years of age. Given how common rape is, the level of reporting to the police is very low. Surveys carried out all over the world show that between 50% to over 90% of women do not report rape to the police.
MYTH: Rape and sexual assault usually happen late at night on quiet roads and in parks.
FACT: Rape and sexual assault happen in different places. Women and girls report being raped and assaulted in their own homes, at work, at school, in clubs and bars, in the homes of the rapist and sometimes they do not know where they were assaulted. Regardless of where a woman or a girl is assaulted she is still entitled to protection, support and care if she chooses to report it to the police.
MYTH: Women and girls are most likely to be raped by a stranger.
FACT: The reality is that women and girls are more likely to be raped by someone they know. This could be a boyfriend, husband, friend, work colleague, classmate, acquaintance or a member of their family. 97% of women who contacted Rape Crisis said they knew the person who raped them. 43% of girls questioned in a national survey said the person responsible for an unwanted sexual experience was a boy they knew or were friends with.
MYTH: Young women who wear revealing clothes are more likely to be raped.
FACT: Rapists do not target women and girls just because of the way they look. From children of a few months old, to women in their 90s, women of all ages and appearances are raped. Blaming the way a woman or a girl dresses is a way of justifying the behaviour of rapists. Whether a woman is wearing a pair of jeans, a skirt, hijab, school uniform or a salwar kameez has nothing to do with why she was raped. Rape is an act of dominance, control and power.
MYTH: If a girl accepts drink, drugs, gifts or money from a boy, then of course he would expect her to have sex with him and his friends.
FACT: This is a form of exploitation and usually the people supplying alcohol, money and gifts have the power in this relationship and will use this to their advantage. Girls who are exploited are likely to be coming from a position of vulnerability such as previous abuse, family breakdown, low self-esteem and disengaging from school and are unlikely to be truly consenting to this type of sexual activity.
MYTH: If a girl does not say ‘no’ to sex, it means she has consented.
FACT: Just because a girl/woman does not say no, this does not mean she has consented to sex. Depending on the situation, it is not always possible to say no and even if she does say no, the boy/man she is with may not respect her decision and might continue to pressure her into having sex. There are other ways that a boy/man is able to recognise a girl/woman does not want to have sex such as the fact she is crying, she looks uncomfortable or scared or that she is completely silent and still. In a safe and healthy situation it is possible for them to talk about whether they are both ready to have sex. However, in a situation that is being controlled and dominated by the boy/man, this type of discussion is unlikely to take place. If a boy/man has sex with a girl who has not actively consented, he is committing an act of rape for which he can be prosecuted.
MYTH: It is common for women and girls to lie about being raped.
FACT: The level of false reporting is very low. Research suggests that it is about 2% and in fact other crimes such as burglary have a higher rate of false reporting because of insurance claims. The reality is that women and girls are reluctant to report rape because they are afraid they will not be believed and feel ashamed about what has happened to them.
MYTH: Women scream and shout when they are being raped.
FACT: Responses to rape and sexual assault vary. Some women may scream and physically ‘fight back’ whilst others are not able to do so. This is because some women ‘freeze’ due to fear, if there are several perpetrators she may be too scared to ‘resist’ or if she is drunk her ability to ‘fight back’ will be affected by alcohol. It is easy to assume how a woman should react when she is being raped. However, the reality for victims is that they are trying to survive a frightening and traumatic ordeal and will do whatever they believe will ensure that they won’t be subjected to further harm and abuse.
MYTH: Child sexual abuse is not a widespread problem.
FACT: 59% of young woman suffered some form of sexual abuse (including being made to look at pornography) before they were 18.
MYTH: Most child abusers do it in a moment of madness/weakness and regret it, so they never do it again.
FACT: Men who sexually abuse children can average as many as 73 victims before they are caught. Abuse takes place over an average of 8 years. A sample of 561 offenders completed a total of 291,737 acts with a total of 195,407 victims (only 3% of these offences were detected).
MYTH: Only certain types of men abuse children.
FACT: There is no "type" of man who is an abuser - they come from every class, professional, racial and religious background. They are, however, mostly married men.
MYTH: Women abuse as many children as men.
FACT: The majority of children are abused by men. Women do abuse children but figures suggest that the vast majority of child abusers are men. Figures relating to sexual abuse indicate that 10% of abusers are women. However, disproportionate media coverage of female perpetrators of child abuse contributes to the notion that women are just as likely as men to abuse children.
There are also some abusive practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) which appear to be perpetrated solely by women. However this kind of abuse is located within a gendered society i.e. a society where men have the majority of financial, religious, social and sexual power and practices like FGM exist ultimately for the benefit of men. Women may be involved in the abuse but are not the cause of it. If men's demands of women changed then the practice would stop.
MYTH: Domestic violence is not a serious and widespread problem.
FACT: Unfortunately domestic violence is an everyday occurrence affecting thousands of women and their children. More than one in four women in England and Wales (4.8 million) since the age of 16 have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse.
Every year 1 million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse – nearly 20,000 women a week. The police receive a call every minute asking for help in relation to domestic violence. In the UK, two women a week are murdered a week by their partner or ex-partner and 500 women a year commit suicide as a result of domestic violence.
In the 15-44 age group, more women are killed globally in domestic violence attacks than in war, accidents or by cancer. Domestic violence cuts across age, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality and class: it is a global health problem and a human rights issue.
MYTH: Men are abused as much as women.
FACT: Men can also be victims of domestic and sexual violence. However violence against men is usually perpetrated by other men and not women. Betsy Stanko’s domestic violence count found that 8% of reported assaults involved a woman assaulting a man whilst 81% of incidents involved a women being attacked by a man. Domestic and sexual violence disproportionately affects women and girls and the Scottish Crime Survey, 2002 found men are less likely to be seriously injured, repeat victims, to report feeling fearful in their own homes, and that the majority of victims are women.
MYTH: You can tell if a woman is experiencing domestic violence because she will be covered in bruises.
FACT: Domestic violence is not just about physical violence and in fact includes psychological, emotional, and verbal abuse. Controlling finances, keeping someone isolated, telling someone they are worthless and stupid, threats of violence, constantly checking text messages are a few examples of the acts of power and control exerted by perpetrators.
MYTH: Alcohol is one of the main causes of domestic violence.
FACT: Not all men and boys who have been violent to their partners have been drinking alcohol or have an alcohol problem. Men or boys who are perpetrators of domestic violence believe that they have the right to control, dominate and hurt their partners and they hold these beliefs regardless of whether they drink alcohol or not. Alcohol is not responsible for violent and abusive behaviour, the perpetrators are.
MYTH: It is acceptable for a man/boy to video sex with his girlfriend on a mobile phone and show it to his friends or put it on the internet.
FACT: Sex is not something that has to be shared with or ‘performed’ for other people. Although sexually explicit behaviour is presented as being the norm, particularly through reality TV shows for example, this can promote the idea that boundaries are no longer needed and that it is acceptable to be open about very private and personal matters to people who perhaps do not care about you or are not concerned about your welfare. This is a form of exploitation and even if the girl has ‘allowed’ herself to be filmed, this may be because she is unable to voice her lack of consent due to low confidence, low self-esteem, peer pressure or fear and intimidation. Filming sex with anyone under 16 is a criminal offence, and the police will prosecute anyone doing this.
MYTH: When boys at school pinch girls’ bottoms or touch their breasts, it is just harmless fun.
FACT: This is a form of sexual bullying and harassment. It is unacceptable and against the law. If this behaviour is not challenged then it condones a form of violence against women. It sends out a message to men and boys that the bodies of women and girls are available for them to treat as they please. Figures from the academic year of 2006-2007, 3500 pupils were suspended for sexual misconduct: sexist graffiti, name-calling, touching, sexual assault and rape. Although this kind of behaviour is illegal in the workplace, sexual harassment still happens and it is believed that one in two women experience this form of harassment.