11 Rape myths used in 2018 that will have you screaming into the void
It’s safe to say that even in 2018 rape myths remain myths themselves in the minds of many. But they are a very real and toxic tradition that create a culture that doesn’t know what rape is or how to stop it from happening (sex education, please).
So for all the doubters out there, here’s a list of 11 rape myths that were used in rape/sexual assault trials this year. Then, we can spend the rest of the afternoon screaming into the void, sounds good?
One thing to note: whether or not the accused are guilty in these cases is not up for us to decide. (Unless you’re one of the jurors and you happen to be reading this - then it actually is up for you to decide!)
But what we can talk about is the accepted cultural concept that it’s okay to use gendered narrative devices in court; devices that are designed to take the blame away from perpetrators and put it on victims.
Each case I talk about has different circumstances, proceedings and outcomes, but they all demonstrate that we’re okay with undermining women in rape and sexual assault trials in order to protect the accused.
So get yourself comfortably situated in front of the void, as we’re headed scream town!
Rape myth 1: How a woman dresses can provoke rape.
This past November in Cork, Ireland, a man was found not guilty of rape. In order to get him off, his defense lawyer, Elizabeth O’Connell, presented that the 17 year old female and accuser was wearing lacy underwear at the time of the event. They were also used as evidence in court.
O’Connell is quoted saying, “Does the evidence out rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
Ahhh right, of course, because our underwear speaks for us! Once they’re on your person, the choice has been made: you want sex, and that’s that.
Side note: could someone please tell me how to say “that’s BS” in underwear speak? (Bloomers with Ilana Glazer making this face on the butt? Got it.)
Let’s talk about how often I make my underwear choice by grabbing whatever pair is close and clean. Sometimes they’re lacy and “sexy”, sometimes they’re literally falling apart - and who’s to say that someone wouldn’t find that more “sexy”!
Other times, there’s only one specific pair of underwear that doesn’t show under my clothes, and *spoiler alert* it’s usually a lacy-ass thong because it has the least amount of fabric. Does that mean I’m asking to be raped?
Or what if I put on a fun cheetah-print lace pair because it makes me feel like a classy bitch who can wear what she likes?
These are all great reasons for choosing underwear. And horrible justifications for rape.
The rape myth that women’s clothing can provoke sexual attacks is (somehow!) still being used in 2018, despite widespread movements to stop this idea from infecting our culture. Even if the argument that wearing something sexy implies you want to have sex, this argument still leaves little room for someone to change their mind - a huge part of the consent crisis we’re currently living.
(Plus, and I won’t get super into this, but women are pressured into owning and wearing sexy underwear. If she was wearing a huge pair of knickers, then that would be ‘bad’ for other reasons. How can we win?)
Rape myth 2: The victim has the duty to get themselves out of the situation, rather than the perpetrator having the duty not to rape.
Rape myth 3: If you’re willing to have consensual sex, your rape testimony can’t be trusted.
Rape myth 4: Once you’ve consented, you’ve consented to it all!
In Halifax, Canada, four British sailors were charged with gang-raping a woman back in April 2015 - with only one standing for trial this year. Throughout the proceedings, the defense has received a lot of attention for questioning the woman’s credibility using common rape myths.
Here’s what went down: the woman came to meet her friend for a double date at the sailors’ barracks. She fell asleep next to one of the sailors and woke up face down and naked while at least three men sexually assaulted her.
Reading about this case, you see a lot of discussion about how the woman claimed she was uncomfortable but that none of the witnesses expressed she appeared this way - not even her friend noticed any discomfort in her friend’s demeanor. Despite her internal discomfort, the woman chose to stay that evening, rather than extracting herself from the situation.
Your rape myth alarm bells should be ringing! The idea that it’s her personal responsibility to remove herself from the situation because she she should assume that she might wake to her own sexual assault is senseless. Moreover, it completely distracts us from shining the spotlight on why she woke up to a gang-rape, which is because she was being gang-raped.
You are not raped because you’re there; you’re raped because someone chooses to rape you. If I eat your sandwich, is it your fault for making the sandwich in the first place?
I’m screaming like Ross about this
Also, maybe she didn’t appear uncomfortable because she didn’t want to seem like she was. That’s basic human behavior for you. And any feelings of comfort or discomfort before the rape are truly beside the point.
Then, there’s the consent discussion in this case. Because she was there to meet a man and was previously heard discussing with her friend that they may each hook up with a sailor that evening, rape myths imply that her consent applies to everything. Furthermore, we let ourselves believe that a woman who would consent to sex can’t give trustworthy rape testimony.
Rape is not sex. They should not be equated. Someone who would have sex in one moment could also say no to other sex. And if the latter still occurs, it would not be sex - but rape.
Let’s go to another scream-inducing example that explores the same issue.
Rape myth 5: Rape is sex.
This story is still unraveling as Ren Liping fights for her attack to be acknowledged in Qingdao, China. After an alleged rape by an ex-boyfriend on her school campus, Ren has gone to great lengths to have her case tried - all to no avail.
As you can imagine, many of the justifications for not seeing her accusations as a crime are deeply-rooted in rape myths.
Encouraged to keep quiet by school officials, Ren decided to go to the police. There she says a female police officer told her that not all sexual experiences are pleasurable.
This is an important one because young girls hear this type of language a lot. When we tell girls something like ‘not all sexual experiences are pleasurable’, they internalize that information and learn to see sex that way.
So if they are in a sexual situation that they don’t like, they don’t know how to say no. They think that’s just how ‘sex’ is. It’s so ingrained, that it takes a lot of women years to recognize that a previous experience was actually rape or a sexual attack.
Ren refuses to let her case get swept under the rug like so many others, but rape myths are powerful. She has to fight against a world of them to even have her story heard, let alone believed.
If you’re not screaming yet, just wait until you hear the story of 20 year-old Imelda Cortez.
Rape myth 6: Her body, her fault.
What happens in El Salvador when you’re repeatedly raped by your step father (since the age of 12), unknowingly become pregnant, then turn up at the hospital 9 months later due to severe bleeding and pain, only to give birth to a surprise baby?
You’re charged with 20 years in jail for attempted murder.
At least, this was the case for Imelda Cortez, who was accused of attempting an abortion - a very illegal practice in El Salvador under all circumstances.
This case is rough. There’s just so many reasons to throw-up in your mouth reading about this. First, there’s the fact that she was impregnated through rape by a father figure. Horrifying.
Then, she didn’t know she was pregnant! Nightmare.
Finally, the doctors accused her of attempting to kill the baby (the baby survived), and she was sent to jail after only a week in hospital. While her Step Father remains free and clear.
Cue the vom.
When talking about rape myths, this example transcends the discussion. We don’t really see a rape myth being used against a woman in trial - instead, she is literally living in one.
Her abuser, the reason the baby was forced into the world, is barely a part of the discussion. But none of this is his fault; it’s hers. Her body, her fault.
Then, charging her with attempted murder is like the most effed up version of gaslighting ever. It’s like saying: forget the real point of this story - that a woman bore a rapist’s baby - and instead let’s punish her by sending her to jail for 20 years.
Not to mention that she is one of around 25 women in El Salvador who say they are wrongfully serving time for abortion, when they were actually suffering from miscarriage or pregnancy complications. And, in the case of Imelda, they say the evidence doesn’t show she harmed her child.
For sense of the timeline, the child is now 2 years old.
So great. Let’s take a mom away from her child in the most crucial years of growth because we hate women.
Rape myth 7: Drinking too much leaves you vulnerable to rape (rather than focusing on why someone is raping to begin with).
Rape myth 8: Flirting equals consent.
Rape myth (reiteration of #1): Again with women’s outfit choices equalling consent!
The Yale sexual assault trial was a nightmare of rape myths and victim-blaming in a time when eyes are on US universities and their inability to handle sexual crimes.
It’s already been a rough time with the roll-back of Title IX guidelines, a move by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that basically says, “Yeah rape myths are all good here.”
(What it really does it make it much harder to prove rape or sexual assault in order to protect the accused - meaning leniency for rape myths. It’s likely to have a larger impact on the amount of people who are willing to report rape, which historically and statistically is low.)
It’s no surprise then that within the proceedings of this trial, the lawyers of the defendant felt entitled to question the alleged victim about how much she drank, if she was flirting with the defendant that night, and her outfit choice.
All of examples demonstrate how we put the burden on the victim rather than on the actions of an attacker (i.e. girls who get drunk are free game). Apparently, the lawyer went so far as to ask her why she would wear a cat costume and not something more modest like a flowing Cinderella gown.
Maybe we should take a look at the kinds of costumes that are marketed to young women and then decide if that question has any value other than to paint the picture of a ‘slutty’ girl in the minds of the jurors.
Even pizza has to be sexy
If the void isn’t yet filled with the echoes of your screams, then I’ll just go ahead and leave this here:
“If you dress in a sexually provocative manner, don’t be surprised if someone becomes provoked. Does that justify rape? No. Was that one of the factors that led Mr. Khan to believe she might be willing to explore intimacy? Yes,” said the defense lawyer. “It was directly relevant, and to suggest otherwise is criminally naive, if not stupid.”
What’s more criminally stupid is establishing a precedent that outfit choice has any say in consent.
Rape myth 9: Sexual assault is only something that happens to young (desirable) people.
Rape myth 10: Rape doesn’t happen between two people that know each other. Rape is when a stranger attacks you on the street.
This high-profile case involving Carlo Tavecchio, the former Vice President of the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti (some soccer thing?), will have you stop screaming into the void so you can roll your eyes all the way into the back of your head - only to continue screaming after that.
The case was dropped this year after prosecutors ruled that the accuser, Elisabetta Cortani, the president of the female division of the soccer club, had waited too long to report her attacks, knew her accuser too well (EYE ROLL) and was too old to be intimidated by Tavecchio.
When I first read the last part, I thought maybe they meant he was young in comparison to her (not that this would make it better necessarily but it would at least mean their argument has some framework of reasoning) - but no. She’s 53, and he’s 74. So in fact, they really do just mean that she’s too old to be sexually attacked.
I hope I don’t have to explain this too hard, as anyone who doesn’t see what’s wrong probably didn’t make it this far down the list! But for anyone scratching their head, this is bad news because sexual harassment, assault, and rape are a cultural problem. Because of this culture, it could happen to a woman regardless of age, race, size, intelligence, or any other personal detail about her.
It is not delineated by beauty or attraction but instead is run by our broken culture that encourages us to value women as sex.
This age example also exposes another messed up part of our culture: that we stop valuing women after they reach a certain age because they’re “no longer” sexually viable.
Even though Cortani had video evidence of her former boss groping her non consensually, it didn’t help her case. In addition to her age, she hadn’t reported within the threshold (something that shouldn’t be a surprise to us after everyone who’s come out this year thanks to #MeToo), in addition to the fact that she knew him “too well”.
We have this idea that rape is only something that happens between strangers. It’s thinking like this that legally allowed spouses to rape their partners in the US until 1993.
It’s a culture, people!
Rape myth 11: If she’s not struggling or screaming no, it’s not rape.
Alright, we’re almost done! We can stop screaming right after we talk about this a gang-rape case where the five accusers were cleared of rape charges.
On second thought, maybe I’ll never stop!
But my screaming won’t drown out the use of this rape myth: that a victim of rape has to be struggling for it to be considered rape.
This case is extremely scary, as it involves five men, who referred to themselves as the ‘wolf pack’, coming upon a random woman and 20 minutes later gang-raping her by “every type of penetration” without a condom.
Video evidence shows that she’s barely moving and mostly has her eyes closed, which the defense lawyer claimed was proof of her consent. The fact that this is even an argument that someone would think to use in court shows how broken our culture is.
What’s amazing is their inability to take into account that a woman would fear for her life in the presence of five men with bad intentions. She wasn’t consenting, she was saving herself. She didn’t know them or what they might do if she fought back.
So she did what women are often taught to do when confronted with uncomfortable or dangerous sexual situations: suck it up. Just do your best to wait until it’s over. At least then you’ll be safe.
The men in this case did end up getting convicted, but not of rape. Instead they were convicted of the lesser offense of sexual abuse. People in Spain were not happy to see such a clear-cut case not receive the sentencing it deserved.
Why? Because moments like these actually matter. A rape ruling could have said - Enough! No more rape myths in the courtroom!
But instead they went with - We care a little but not a lot. Take that as you will.
Some parting words
I don’t know about you, but I need a nap now.
I hope, at the very least, this list will help you go out into the world with confidence to report that rape myths are still very much being used in courtrooms around the world. And while we don’t get to be there to make it stop (unless you’re a judge reading this - then you can!), we can stop falling into the same traps in our own lives.
So if you ever hear yourself or someone else almost using a rape myth for justification in any part of life, take a second to think and talk about what that really means.
We all kind of do it - because it’s a culture - and the best way to deal is to talk it out. So let’s take our unintelligible screams into the void and turn them into words.
(They can still be screaming words if that helps.)