Debunking Myths About Campus Sexual Assault

There are certain myths that inform the way we think about sexual assault.

In collaboration with Michelle Issadore from School and College Organization for Prevention Educators (SCOPE), Noodle presents the facts about these common misconceptions.

Myth: Most women are sexually assaulted by strangers.

Fact: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. In a study done by the Department of Justice between 2005-2010, researchers found that 78 percent of sexual violence was perpetrated by non-strangers, and 38 percent of rapists were either a friend or an acquaintance of the victim.

Myth: Sexual assaults occur in isolated places, like dark alleyways.

Fact: In the same Department of Justice report, researchers found that 55 percent of rapes/sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s house.

Myth: People who allege that they were sexually assaulted are often lying in order to seek revenge or attention.

Fact: The National Sexual Violence Resource Center explains that statistics about “false” claims of sexual assault are often inflated because there are inconsistencies with the criteria used by law enforcement to determine the truth of allegations. In general, the statistics that exist show false allegations range between 1.7 and 8 percent. In an exhaustive study by Lisak et al., which analyzed various reports on the subject, researchers found that “...in general the greater the scrutiny applied to police classifications, the lower the rate of false reporting detected. Cumulatively, these findings contradict the still widely promulgated stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence.”

Myth: The use of date rape drugs accounts for a large number of sexual assaults.

Fact: In a 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice, researchers found that only 0.6 percent of women who participated in the study reported being sexually assaulted after receiving date rape drugs. Meanwhile, the same study found that 89 percent of victims had been drinking when they were assaulted. Issadore explained that a correlation between alcohol and sexual assault is not causation and that, even if alcohol is involved in an assault, this does not call into question the seriousness of the act. She gave the following example: We never blame a pedestrian who may have been drinking and was struck by a drunk driver. Drunk driving is always a crime, regardless of whether the pedestrian was also drunk.

Myth: The only thing men can do to help in the battle against sexual assault is to not participate in sexual violence.

Fact: While not perpetrating sexual violence is imperative, it is not the only way men can help lower sexual assault rates. In fact, only 6 percent of college men engage in sexual violence. However, research indicates that those college men who commit sexual assaults are often serial offenders, averaging six attempted or completed assaults. This fact may help explain the seeming discrepancy between the small population of perpetrators and the large incidence of sexual assault on college campuses.

Issadore explains that there are many ways men can be allies in this fight: intervening when they hear sexist or violent speech, calling out a friend who is exhibiting questionable behavior, working to make their own parties a safe environment, and interrupting a dangerous situation.

Myth: Sexual assault only occurs in Greek Life organizations.

Fact: Sexual assault occurs in a variety of environments. While participating in Greek Life can lead to reinforcing negative gender norms and binge-drinking, this is behavior that occurs in many groups and settings, such as athletic teams, bands/groups where hazing takes place, or in single-sex dorms. By the same token, Issadore reminds us, there are many Greek Life institutions, such as multicultural, academic, and service fraternities and sororities, where such attitudes and activities are less common.

Myth: Sexual assault victims are mainly first-year students.

Fact: Sexual assault can happen to students at any point in their college career, as well as before or after college. Still, there is a heightened risk for first-year students during their first six weeks of college. Experts believe this is a result of the fact that these students are new to campus, feel vulnerable, and may not have much experience with alcohol or sex. Unfortunately, Issadore explains, this kind of insecurity is something that serial perpetrators will be on the look out for.

Sources:

Here's Your Talking-Points Memo on Campus Sexual Assault. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2014, from AAUW

Lisak, D., Gardiner, L., Nicksa, S., & Cote, A. (2010). False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases. Violence Against Women, 16(12), 1318-1334. Available online courtesy of Symposium of False Allegations of Rape

Krebs, C., Lindquist, C & Warner T. (2007, January 1). The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from National Institute of Justice

U.S. Department of Justice. (2013) Female Victims of Sexual Violence 1994-2010. Retrieved from The Bureau of Justice Statistics