Myths That Harm Survivors Pt. 2
April 28th, 2021
Myth: Sexual assault cannot or does not occur in committed relationships.
Fact: 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner.
When we think and talk about sexual assault, the images conjured in our minds typically resemble a common theme. Sexual assault is often thought of as an act committed by a stranger in a strange place, but sexual violence happens in the home a lot more often than one may suspect. 1 in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime; that’s nearly 11.1 million women in the United States. We tend to think of “home” as a safe, comfortable place, but that isn’t always the case. For some, the greatest threat of sexual violence comes from someone they love and care for within the four walls of their home.
Sexual assault in intimate relationships is rarely isolated behavior. Often, sexual violence is just part of an abusive pattern in intimate relationships. Because of this, sexual assault and domestic violence are deeply connected issues.
It’s important to be aware of patterns of behavior that may suggest there is sexual violence in the home. Knowing these warning signs can help protect loved ones.
According to RAINN, typical behaviors of sexual abuse in a relationship include a partner who:
- Attempts to isolate their partner from friends, family, work, or school
- Extreme jealous tendencies
- Consistent belittling or insulting remarks
- Destroys property
- Threatens to harm children or pets
- Insinuates or explicitly states their partner is worthless or undeserving of love
- Controls partner’s finances
While intimate partner violence disproportionately affects women, men are also the victims of intimate partner violence. 1 in 12 men has experienced sexual violence other than rape at the hands of a spouse or committed partner. This includes sexual coercion and being made to penetrate someone else. Sexual coercion occurs when an individual uses pressure tactics or substances to convince another to engage in sexual activity or persistent attempts to engage in sexual activity with someone who has consistently refused.
Intimate partner sexual violence is wildly unreported. In fact, one study suggests 84% of sexual abuse in relationships is never reported. This abuse can lead to serious trauma-related illnesses and indicates an increased risk for domestic homicide; moreover, intimate partner sexual violence often puts other members of the household in danger, such as children.
Victims may not only experience shame but fear and concern about the consequences of their abusive partner. Reporting may lead to criminal charges, community gossip, and stigmatization that affects entire families or close groups— a significant factor in the underreporting of intimate partner sexual abuse.
The power dynamics in an intimate relationship are unique regarding sexual abuse. Sometimes, partners believe they are entitled to sex in a relationship; sometimes, partners believe that previous consensual sex renders asking for consent unnecessary. Perpetrators often project this mindset on their victims through manipulation and enforcing toxic gender roles.
Intimate partner violence is so uniquely damaging because the victim often has or had feelings of love or fondness for their perpetrator. We usually don’t think of a perpetrator as a married man with a family or your friend’s girlfriend. We usually don’t think of victims as a 65-year-old aunt or your favorite high school teacher. This kind of sexual assault can be deceiving; we never really know what happens behind closed doors.
Convincing someone to have sex through guilt or pressure tactics is sexual coercion, not consent. If a partner finally “gives in,” that is sexual coercion, not consent. No one is entitled to sex— not the guy that bought you drinks at the bar last night, not the cute girl who you kissed at a party and assumed you wanted more, not a spouse or committed partner. Consent needs to be given every single time in every type of relationship.
If you or a loved one is in danger of intimate partner violence, please visit our support page for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Myth: If a victim was intoxicated when the assault occurred, it is not really assault.
Fact: Drugs and alcohol may be used to facilitate sexual assault.
As I was researching the intersection of intoxicating substances and sexual abuse, most of the statistics I found sounded like this: “Excessive alcohol consumption increases the possibility of sexual assault. Victim and/or perpetrator can be impaired by alcohol” (The Link Between Alcohol and Sexual Assault). Out of context, this sounds a little fishy to me, so I thought we’d break it down. Alcohol and drugs can be used as a way to impair a victim of sexual assault; in turn, the victim may lose bodily control, become unconscious, or not be able to make clear decisions. Adversely, alcohol can instigate a perpetrator’s natural aggressive tendencies or desire for control and power. Perpetrators may consciously or subconsciously use recreational substances to justify their own acts of assault. So, yes, alcohol may increase the risk of sexual assault if either the victim or the perpetrator is intoxicated; however, alcohol does not cause sexual assault, and a victim’s choice to drink or take drugs does not lead to sexual assault. It is never the victim’s responsibility when sexual assault occurs, whether the individual drank or did not. It is always the perpetrator’s responsibililty when sexual assault occurs, whether the individual drank or did not.
I heard an analogy once that has always stuck with me, so now, I’ll share it with all of you. You and your buddy Dave go out drinking one night. You meet these two nice guys, Jeff and Duke. You’re all getting along well— laughing and drinking. Unprovoked, Duke stands up and punches Dave in the face. A fight breaks out; the police arrive. One of the officers asks what happens. Dave says, “Duke assaulted me!” Duke says, “You were drinking. You were asking to be punched.” So, the officer walks away because Dave’s intoxication justified Duke’s assault; Dave shouldn’t have gotten drunk if he did not want to be punched.
This sounds unrealistic, but when you substitute sexual assault for the physical assault depicted in this analogy, it is very realistic. Recently, a Minnesota court reversed a sex offender’s conviction of third-degree criminal sexual conduct four years after the attack.
On May 13, 2017, a woman drank 5 vodka shots and took her prescribed narcotic before heading out to a neighborhood in Minneapolis to continue drinking. Three men, including Francios Momolu Khalil, noticed the bar deny entry to the woman and her friends, so they invited her to a party. The men drove the women to a house in North Minneapolis, yet there was no party there. At the house the woman became unconscious. She regained cognizance on a living room couch; Khalil was assaulting her. She, again, became unconscious. In the morning, she awoke to her shorts around her ankles.
No one in the Minnesota court denies the facts of the case. The ruling was overturned because the woman was “voluntarily intoxicated.” According to the New York Times, the Minnesota court explained that “she had made the decision to drink, and therefore did not meet the threshold for mental incapacitation under state law.”
This sets a legal and social precedent that protects assailants and rapists from legal consequences if a woman decides to drink. Furthermore, this case implied that it was the woman’s fault that she woke up on a stranger’s couch with her clothing removed. This woman would not have had the mental capacity to give enthusiastic consent.
The matter of fact is survivors experience sexual assault in a number of “non-risky” circumstances. Women have been sexually assaulted while exercising, walking home from work, and at school. Children have been sexually assaulted before they understood what intoxication is. Many survivors blame themselves for engaging in risky behavior that they believe led to their assault. But, the only one who can truly prevent sexual assault is the perpetrator, not the victim.
Please take our pledge to believe survivors and visit our web page for resources to support survivors and educate allies!
Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse [PDF]. (n.d.). Office For The Prevention of Domestic Violence.
Intimate partner sexual violence. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.rainn.org/articles/intimate-partner-sexual-violence
Link between alcohol and sexual assault: Fountain hills. (2020, December 04). Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.fountainhillsrecovery.com/blog/link-between-alcohol-and-sexual-assault/
Morales, C. (2021, March 31). Court overturns sex crime conviction because victim was 'voluntarily intoxicated'. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/us/minnesota-supreme-court-rape-ruling.html