In this segment in the Lessons from Trauma series, I want to go over an effort that is near to my heart and far more important than most people realize. It is misconceptions about sexual assault.
This month is April, which means it is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You may know that almost 8 years ago I was sexually assaulted.
After my trauma I realized the vast majority of my beliefs about sexual trauma were wrong.
I realized that the majority of the world gets their education about sexual trauma from movies or shows. Although a few provide an accurate telling, the majority do not - which means most of the world only is aware of a small fraction of the realities of sexual trauma.
For example, prior to being a survivor, if I heard on the news there had been a sexual assault, I would have automatically assumed it was a woman victim. in her early 20’s, who was drunk, wearing very revealing clothing, walking by herself down a dark alley, and was sexually assaulted by a male stranger who had a weapon. In the aftermath, I would have assumed she would be rocking back and forth in shock and tears.
I would have assumed that because that is what I had seen most depicted on television. I would have assumed that scenario was the majority of most sexual assault cases. But that is not true.
Common Misconceptions about Sexual Assault
Let's break down what my assumptions were and point out any misconceptions.
Misconception: The vast majority of victims are women
Reality: The majority of victims are women, but they are not the vast majority. Male victims make up a significant percentage.
Misconception: Victims may be partially to blame based on what they were wearing, doing, etc.
Reality: There is nothing a person can do, say, or wear that has the power to compel someone else to harm them. Inadvertently, victim-blaming is saying that victims have that power, which isn’t true. A perpetrator is fully responsible for their actions. Sexual assault is not a survivor's fault.
Misconception: Most sexual assaults happen in dark alleys or secluded parking garages
Reality: Only 10% happen locations such as those. 8% happen on school property, 12% at or near a relative's home, 15% in an open public place, and 55% at or near the victim's home.
Misconception: Perpetrators are only males.
Reality: Many perpetrators are female.
Misconception: Most victims do not know their perpetrator.
Reality: Only 20% of sexual assaults are committed by strangers. 80% of the victims know the person who sexual assaulted them.
Misconception: Most perpetrators use a weapon to threaten the victim to be quiet or comply.
Reality: Only 11% of sexual assaults involved a weapon such as a gun or knife.
Misconception: A victim will try to either fight or run away when being assaulted.
Reality: Fight or flight are responses a victim may have but the most common trauma response of a survivor of sexual assault is to freeze.
Misconception: After being sexually assaulted a victim will be in hysterics, shaking, and crying.
Reality: Shock plays out in countless ways. Some victims may act as if nothing happened. Some may make jokes. How someone reacts while in shock can often seem very strange given what just happen. Shock can also last for several weeks. It is important to not have expectations for how someone responds during or after a traumatic event.
The Dangers of Misconceptions about Sexual Assault
This is dangerous because when the vast majority of our education on sexual assault is from movies, then we will only know a small fraction about the realities of it. This is harmful because people can have a more difficult time believing a survivor whose assault doesn’t fall within the limited view we have in our mind of what a sexual assault is.
Similarly, if someone is accused of assaulting someone else, and if the accused doesn’t fit what we have seen in movies, then we will be less likely to believe that person committed that crime.
I hope you are beginning to see how misconceptions hurt survivors and protect perpetrators.
How to Help
The great news is that even 20 minutes of learning will make a tremendous change.
Plus I have a free PDF with a lot of education to help. The PDF was originally created for someone wanting to know how to support a survivor in their life. However, all of the information in there is a crash course on sexual assault and survivors.
It also comes with another free PDF that walks a survivor through sharing their story in a way that has their self-care in mind. So if you are a survivor or know someone who is, that additional PDF may be beneficial as well - otherwise you can feel free to just delete it.
Here is the link to sign up for the free PDFs -> Sexual Assault Resources
Another benefit of being educated on the truth about sexual assault is you will be equipped with the knowledge to correct people when you hear them voice misconceptions. Be sure to connect with me on Instagram or TikTok @theashleybaxter for examples that I’ll be putting into videos soon of how to handle those kinds of conversations.
Thank you for sticking through to the end. I know this isn’t an easy topic, but just because it isn’t easy doesn’t lessen how severe and rampant sexual assault is.
I don’t expect sexual assaults to never occur. I know that unfortunately isn’t a reality. However, tremendously more can be done to help survivors and to bring perpetrators to justice.
Download those PDFs today in order to be part of the good fight.
In the next segment in this series of Lessons from Trauma, I share about the importance of seeking healing from the hardships in life - regardless of what your hardships may be. I hope you’ll join me for that message.
Until next time, remember that you are valuable and desperately needed in this world.