This chapter begins with an overview of common misconceptions and myths about rape. Given the misconceptions about the offenders who commit rape and the victims who suffer its consequences, it is important to present this information in the beginning. As the chapter progresses, note how a number of these misconceptions and myths are still very much embedded in current rape laws and policies, prevention efforts, typologies of rapists and rape victims, and criminal justice responses, including police investigation and judicial processing of rape. Two types of rape myths are discussed—situational rape myths and attitudinal rape myths.

Situational Rape Myths

Situational rape myths refer to misconceptions about the crime of rape, including who commits it, its victims, and when/where it happens. These myths are born primarily out of biased media coverage of rape, as well as inaccurate reporting and record keeping of rape statistics. These myths are summarized in Table 3.1.

table 3.1 Summary of Situational Rape Myths



Rape only happens to young, attractive women.

All segments of the population can be and are raped. Rape has less to do with physical and sexual attraction, and more to do with power.

Rape only happens to "bad" women.

Anyone can be a victim of rape. Certain segments of the population are more vulnerable to rape than others, but it is not exclusive to these segments.

The majority of rape claims are false.

False rape allegations are rare. It is also important to differentiate between false allegations (which prove that the event did not happen) and unsubstantiated allegations (which fail to prove the event did happen). Unsubstantiated allegations are more common than false allegations.

Rapists are mentally ill monsters.

The majority of rapes are committed by men who do not suffer from a severe mental illness.

Only men can rape and only women can be victims.

The most common rape scenario involves a male offender and a female victim, but females can be offenders and men can be victims of rape.

Unsafe, unmonitored places are breeding grounds for rape and sexual assault.

Most rapes happen in the home or behind closed doors and are committed by people known to the victim.

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