Busting Rape Myths

The many misconceptions about rape and consent make it difficult for many victims of sexual assault to come forward and seek help. Here are 9 Rape Myths which explain some of the barriers victims may face in speaking up and getting the support they need.

1: Rapists are usually strangers.

In Singapore and around the world, most sexual assault is committed by someone known to the victim. Sexual assault can be committed by a date, friends, family members, intimate partners or spouses. Around the world, acquaintance rape is much more common than stranger rape, and makes up close to 80% of all rape cases1.

Rubbed Wrong Way

2: Women say “no” to sex when they actually mean “yes”.

When someone says no, always take it to mean no. Trust that they know best, and take them at face value. Only treat an active, enthusiastic “yes” as consent to sexual activity. It is better to forego sex than to potentially molest or rape someone.

3: Women often “cry rape” – i.e. make false reports of rape to seek attention, take revenge on men or because they are in denial that they consented to sex.

False allegations of rape are statistically insignificant2 and are no more common than false reports of any other crime. Rape is the most under-reported crime in the world3. Feelings of shame and self-doubt, as well as fear of stigma and not being believed, often prevent victims from coming forward. To encourage more victims to report, we must debunk this myth.

4: Someone who’s drunk can’t say no to sex, so it’s not rape to perform sexual acts on them.

Someone who is drunk can’t say yes to sex! Silence or submission is not consent. The individual must be able and willing to give informed consent to sex. Sexual activity with someone whose judgment is impaired by intoxicants, or who is unconscious, is sexual assault.

5: A woman who flirts with a man, goes back to his apartment, makes out with him or shares a bed with him cannot claim rape.

These circumstances, and others, do not excuse rape. Neither do they make rape the woman’s fault. Consent has to be explicit and sought for each stage of intimacy. It can also be withdrawn at any point. Whenever someone asks to stop, others must respect that choice. Continuing or coercing the person makes it assault. Blaming the victim because of the way she was dressed, because she has been intimate with the man before, or because she trusted and felt comfortable with the man prior to the assault, shows a denial of women’s right to choose with whom and when they have sex. It also excuses rapists and perpetuates sexual violence in society.

6: Rape happens because men can’t control their sexual urges.

Studies show that men rape because they feel a sense of sexual entitlement4. In other words, men rape because they can get away with it. Rape is a violent act that involves taking agency away from someone and exerting control over them – it is a crime of power. People of all genders have sexual urges, and they all also have the power to control them.

7: It’s only rape if the woman struggled and tried to fight it off physically. If there are no bruises or blood, it can’t be rape.

Sexual assault is not just physical coercion, but psychological coercion. In cases of psychological coercion (e.g. the victim is blackmailed or pressurised) or where the woman is afraid or unable to resist (e.g. the victim is drunk, unconscious, tired or too terrified), there is seldom physical violence or force. An assault can occur without visible evidence of force or resistance. Faced with the threat of rape, victims of assault may freeze or surrender, as they believe (and it’s often true) that this minimises harm and pain5. Submission is not  consent, and doesn’t make what happened less of a rape.


8: Sex workers or women who are very sexually active shouldn’t be taken seriously when they report rape.

Any sexual activity without consent is sexual assault, no matter who the people involved are or what their relationship is. Similarly, a person’s sexual history or experience of sex work does not mean that they cannot be assaulted. As long as they didn’t consent to that instance of sex with that person, it is rape.

9: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.

While most rapes occur against women, men can also be victims of sexual assault. Although Singapore’s Penal Code narrowly defines ‘rape’ as a crime that cannot be committed by a woman against a man, there is also the crime of ‘sexual penetration’ which carries the same penalties and criminalises non-consensual penetration of men. However, social stigma remains a serious barrier toward male victims seeking help. This isn’t helped by popular culture treating the rape of male prisoners as a joke or a perverse form of “justice”.


1. Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1995). National Crime Victimization Survey.

2. Lonsway, K., Archambault, J., & Lisak, D. (2009) False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault. The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women.

3. Justice Department. (2008-2012). National Crime Victimization Survey.

4. Jewkes, R., Fulu, E., Roselli, T., Garcia-Moreno, C. (2013). Prevalence of and factors associated with non-partner rape perpetration: findings from the UN Multi-country Cross-sectional Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific. The Lancet Global Health.

5. Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and Recovery. Basic Books.