Debunking Myths, Stereotypes of Sexual Violence

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Debunking Myths, Stereotypes of Sexual Violence

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Nonprofit Educates Pierce Students on Consent

Sexual assault has plagued this country for a long time.  The culture of male dominance has suppressed many movements for change.

However, recent national movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have stirred conversations about sexual violence in more of a public forum. Sexual violence is defined as any act of a sexual nature against a person’s will. Open discussions of personal accounts have caused Americans to reexamine their opinions about sexual assault. They are speaking out more in support of the victims.

Rachel Ché Smith, a program coordinator for sex trafficking response and awareness  at Rebuilding Hope, educated young adults about stereotypes attached to sexual violence during an event at Pierce College Puyallup on Nov. 27.

“Sexual violence is a widespread societal issue that continues to struggle to be acknowledged; this is in part due to myths and stereotypes that persist,” said Smith, who works in the Sex Trafficking Response and Awareness Program of Washington, a newly restructured department of Rebuilding Hope.

Rebuilding Hope’s mission is to shatter lies and stereotypes that not only “enable(s) perpetrators to excuse or deny their sexual violence but also shifts the blame away from the perpetrators and places it squarely on the shoulders of the victim,” Smith said.

Until the widespread use of social media, it was difficult to inform the general public of this ongoing, underreported crime. Many Americans would just fall for the stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual violence, including the idea that people are asking to be assaulted by drinking or dressing a certain way, Smith said.

As a result, the narrative becomes, “that if a victim did not fight back then it was not rape. That if a person does not say, ‘No’ verbally then they must have wanted the sexual encounter and that most assaults happen by strangers,” she added. However, consent must be verbal and cannot be given under distress or when inebriated, Smith said.

Nick Nelson / Staff Illustration
Sexual assault can affect anyone; however, college students are at high risk.

The myths and misconceptions have created an environment of placing the blame on the victim and not the perpetrator, which is called “victim blaming.”

Sarah Hoaglin, an instructor at Pierce College, has a private practice as a mental health provider. She can attest to the impact “victim blaming” has on her clients. “In my line of work, I notice that people are humiliated to report that they have been victimized, or they feel that there is a stigma against assault victims,” Hoaglin said.

Tate Bates, Director of Advocacy and Education at Rebuilding Hope, said college students are at a high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence. Students are entering a new stage in their lives with newfound freedoms. They are trying new things and sometimes find themselves in compromising situations.

The percentage of sexual assaults on college campuses is unknown, Bates said. Many assaults are not reported. When victims report their assaults they normally report them directly to local police. Therefore, the college would not have direct access to that information.

Sexual violence can range from rape and attempted rape, to unwanted touching, exhibitionism and verbal sexual harassment, Smith said. “Sexual assault also may not include force or any illegal activity,” she added. Even in a marriage, if one person doesn’t give verbal consent, it is considered a form of sexual assault.

Thursday Cole, a Pierce College student, worked in a female correctional facility, where she supported many women who were sexually abused.

“I worked with these females to build their self-esteem, and I did not realize that I was also being sexually violated in my private life,” Cole said. Many victims lose their self-esteem if they don’t have a support system, she added.

Many women are abused by a family or close family friend, Hoaglin said.

“Sometimes they are terrorized by their assaulter into not reporting due to fear for themselves and their families,” Hoaglin added. “There is still much we can do as a community to help make victims into survivors and allow them to share their stories without feeling that they are being judged or looked down upon.”