Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week focuses critical attention on confronting misconceptions surrounding rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual violence. Prevalent myths and stereotypes blame victims, downplay the role of perpetrators, and obscure the true scale and impact of these traumatic crimes.
Statistics paint a sobering picture: the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 3.4 million women over 16 have endured some form of sexual assault. Domestic abuse shelters are also reporting an alarming increase in reproductive coercion, where abusers force unprotected sex or contraceptive sabotage to assert further control and dominance.
Sexual violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by intimate partners rather than strangers. Additionally, while the common narrative depicts men solely as perpetrators, a striking number are also victims – 115,000 UK men disclosed sexual assault by their partners in recent years.
This week calls on all of us to reject victim-blaming attitudes, recognise the reality of sexual violence, and support those who have endured immense trauma, regardless of gender. Creating a just society requires dispelling distorted perceptions through compassion and facts.
Sexual abuse and sexual violence awareness week focuses on challenging the misconceptions surrounding the statements surrounding rape and sexual assault. Sexual violence includes rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, as well as forcing their victim into prostitution or engaging in sexual activity with their abuser.
The Office for National Statistics concluded that 33% had been sexually assaulted/raped by an intimate partner. The Crime Survey for England and Wales stated that an estimated 3.4 women aged over 16 had experienced a form of sexual assault.
Another form of sexual abuse that Domestic Shelter suggests is increasing is the forbidden use of birth control with the intent to conceive, as well as show dominance. Thus increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, as the abuser prevents the use of condoms or manipulates their partner into believing birth control is being used. For example, a 2015 study indicates that male abusers may remove access to oral contraceptives by disposing of them or replacing them with alternative medications, while female abusers may falsely inform their partner that they are using contraceptives. Consequently, forcible reproduction could be deemed the ultimate control, as it is a method of isolation, thus leading to further abuse.
Often, the victim’s behaviour and clothes are discussed as thoughts that provoke the violent act. Thus creating a victim-blaming culture. Sexual abuse or sexual violence is never the victim’s fault, and solely the perpetrator of the violent act is to blame. Another misconception is that strangers are most likely to be the culprits of sexual violence or rape; however, only 10% of rapes are committed by total strangers.
Another myth is that men are not victims of sexual abuse or violence; however, the Office for National Statistics announced that 115,000 men reported they had been sexually assaulted (including attempts) by their partner, with 13,000 men reporting their abuse in 2016/17. This misconception that men are unable to be victims of such violence results in many male victims not reporting their abuse. Besides, research suggests that men are less likely to disclose sexual abuse out of fear of other reactions, and limited data is exploring forced-to-penetrate cases, further overshadowing the abuse.
Adding to this, a 2017 study of 154 male victims emphasised that 9% had frequently been forced to penetrate anally, 29% orally, and 62% vaginally. Furthermore, 43.8% of respondents said that they had experienced sexual abuse between the ages of 16 and 25. Thus emphasising the high proportion of men who are victims of sexual abuse and violence.
Confronting deeply-rooted misconceptions requires courage and compassion to truly listen and understand. Blaming victims only perpetuates injustice; we must shift the responsibility wholly onto perpetrators of sexual violence.
These traumatic crimes impact people of all genders; providing support and justice regardless of archaic gender stereotypes is paramount.
If you require further information, advice, or support, please get in touch with one of the following organisations:
- Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999 (Helpline)
- Victim Support: 0333 300 6389 (Helpline)
- The Survivors Trust: 0808 801 0818
- Survivors UK: Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support
Natalie Quinn-Walker is a lecturer in public health and deputy course lead at Birmingham City South Campus – Seacole.