Myths That Put Us All At Risk

by Jolie Ann Bales

March 27, 2000 (Berkeley, Calif.) -- Most sexual assaults simply don't fit any stereotype. Among the most common misconceptions are these:

* Most women are raped by strangers. Justice Department statistics indicate that fewer than 25% of rape victims are assaulted by a person they do not know. Other studies indicate an even lower percentage.

* Most rapes affect adult women. Rape is a crime that primarily affects women during childhood and adolescence. Of the estimated 12.1 million American women who have been raped, nearly 30% were assaulted when they were younger than 11 years old. Another 32% of women were raped between the ages of 11 and 17, and 22% more were raped between the ages of 18 and 24. Only 6% of rapes occurred in women over the age of 29.

* Only women are raped. While they certainly happen much less frequently, male-to-male and female-to-male rapes do occur and are no less traumatic to those men who are assaulted.

* Most rapists only rape once. In fact, most rapists are recidivists -- a compelling reason to find ways to encourage victims to report assaults and to pursue the rights and remedies available to them.

* Sexual assault is a crime of passion and lust. Sexual assault has nothing to do with passion; rather it uses power and control to dominate and humiliate victims of both sexes.

* Most rapists are "dirty old men." Fifty percent of rapists are between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.

* Sexual assault is a spontaneous, impulsive act. Studies consistently conclude that 75% of all assaults are planned. When three or more assailants are involved, the number climbs to 90%.

* Most rapes are committed against white women by men of color. The National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence found that 90% of all rapes occur between people of the same ethnic or racial background. In a majority of the 10% of rapes that are interracial, white men rape black women.

* There are many phony rape reports. Women rarely lie about rape. The FBI reports that false accusations account for only 2% of all reported sexual assaults, a number that is no higher than false reports of any other crime. A National Victim Center Study of l992 confirms this percentage.

* It can't happen to me. Rape is the most frequently committed violent crime in America.

Jolie Ann Bales is an attorney based in Berkeley, Calif. She has written for a number of legal and business publications.