Myth: If she didn’t say no or fight back, then it wasn’t really rape.
Fact: If the victim was incapable of consent, if they were too scared to say no, or if they were coerced, then it was rape.
This myth assumes that victims will act a certain way during an assault. Many people imagine how they might react to the threat of violence. But without personal experience or an understanding of victim psychology, these imaginings are often not very close to reality. Furthermore, everyone reacts differently to the threat of violence, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way for a victim to respond.
This myth also assumes that perpetrators are incapable of recognizing whether or not the victim is consenting unless they verbally say no. But people give or withhold consent in a nonverbal way all the time. The perpetrator is capable of recognizing and responding appropriately to nonverbal cues; they just choose to ignore them.
Many victims may be too scared to say no.
Sometimes the perpetrator may verbally threaten violence; sometimes the act itself or the physical size or strength of the perpetrator may cause the victim to fear further violence. Further, many victims may be so afraid that they are incapable of saying no. We often hear about the human “fight or flight” response. These two responses call up extra bursts of energy to either fight off an attacker or flee a dangerous situation. Both of these responses mean the victim has some hope of survival. But when the victim is so overwhelmed that they feel they have no hope of avoiding the danger, they may freeze instead of fighting or fleeing. Some victims may pass out, and others may disassociate, meaning they mentally detach from their bodies in order to avoid processing the trauma happening to them. The freeze response stops the victim from being capable of saying no, fighting back, or running from the attack. It may also prevent them from feeling pain during the attack and may cause them to have incomplete or even no memories afterward. In light of this additional freeze response, most psychologists now refer to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response.
Someone who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol is incapable of giving consent.
If a person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, they are unable to consent to sex— even if they verbally say yes. Oftentimes, we think of “incapacitated” as someone who is asleep or unconscious, but the truth is that sometimes, a person is incapacitated but is still able to walk, talk and retain some basic functioning skills. However, that person is still unable to give consent because they are incapable of making informed, rational judgments. A helpful analogy for this situation is that if a person is too drunk to drive, they are probably too drunk to give clear, conscious consent. Many of us have likely heard the myth that if a person chooses to engage in drug or alcohol use, they are responsible for taking care of themselves and making sure that no one takes advantage of them. This statement is untrue and blames survivors for their own assaults. In reality, the person initiating each sex act is always responsible for obtaining clear consent, regardless of their own or others’ level of intoxication.
Someone who is coerced into sexual activity is not giving active consent.
If they were bribed, threatened, or blackmailed, then that is not true consent. Additionally, someone who is emotionally manipulated or worn down from repeated requests for sex may not be giving active consent either. The bottom line is that consent to any form of sexual activity is enthusiastic, affirmative, conscious, and freely-made. It is not transferrable from one time to the next—consent must be sought and received every single time. Consent is an ongoing process and is constantly communicated between partners through mutually understandable words or actions. Everyone has a responsibility to make sure their partner(s) feel happy and safe when engaging in any form of sexual activity.
This post is part of a series on Myths & Facts about Sexual Violence: