Lifestyle, Manchester

Breaking down the myths around rape and sexual assault

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Featured image: Laura Sheridan & Lucy Vincent
By Leonie Kellar


Starting university can be a great time to meet new friends and partners. Freshers events bring new opportunities and experiences, but it is important to ensure that everybody is safe and having fun. To help spread awareness and break down some of the misconceptions around rape and sexual assault, aAh! has collaborated with I Survived Too founder and Manchester Met student social worker Leonie Kellar.

“I created I Survived Too after I realised the help and support survivors need at one of the hardest times in their life simply wasn’t widely available,” says Leonie. “Thousands of people are left feeling alone, ashamed, violated and traumatised, with very limited support to deal with those thoughts and mental health implications. I hope that I Survived Too can provide a free, regular and accessible support group for survivors so they can feel believed, understood and empowered as part of a community.”

A study by Revolt Sexual Assault revealed that almost two thirds of university students and graduates have experienced sexual violence while studying at university, with only one in ten students going on to report this to the police and/or university. Leonie aims to raise awareness and break the stigmatisation around rape and sexual assault to empower more students to come forward, be heard and receive support and justice. To help, she rounds up five of the most common misconceptions.


1. “If they didn’t say no, fight back or run away then they weren’t assaulted or raped.”

The absence of “no” doesn’t mean the individual agrees to sexual activity.If somebody is turning their head or body away, pushing you away, lying still, avoiding touching, staying silent or showing signs of distress they are not consenting. The four responses to trauma can be fight, flight, freeze or fawn meaning that everybody may react to the trauma differently. It is common for individuals to freeze within the moment as a body’s automatic response to fear in order to keep them safe.

2. “It isn’t rape or assault if you are in a relationship, friends or consented before.”

It doesn’t matter what your relationship with the individual is or whether they have consented before, everybody needs to clearly consent both verbally and non-verbally to every sexual activity. The theory of “stranger danger” is dangerous as it creates a stereotype that only strangers can be threatening. This enables perpetrators to abuse people they are close to as they are less likely to be suspected, when in fact 45% of cases of rape and sexual assault reported are perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner.

3. “They were wearing revealing clothes and/or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, so they are to blame.”

It is ok for someone to want sex, to flirt or enjoy somebody’s attention. It is not ok for someone to assume that this is what they want based on how a person is dressed, where they were or how much they drank. Often, alcohol or drugs are tools that can be used by perpetrators to gain control over their victim, making them more vulnerable. Therefore, the only person to blame for an assault is the perpetrator. Nobody deserves to be violated and abused and perpetrators should be held responsible for their actions, instead of blaming the victim.

4. “Only women get raped.”

Anybody can be a survivor of rape or sexual assault, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or appearance. While it is more common for women to be assaulted, one in 20 men have experienced rape or sexual assault as an adult. Anybody who does not consent to sexual activity is a victim of this abuse and should be believed and receive support.

5. “They instigated the conversation, kissing or sexual activity so they couldn’t have been raped.”

Consent is retractable at any point meaning that anybody can change their mind at any time. It is important for both individuals to gain consent and respect each other’s decision to stop, as well as look out for signs of somebody withdrawing their consent both verbally and non-verbally.


Useful contacts

I Survived Too: isurvivedtoo@outlook.com

Manchester Rape Crisis: 0161 273 4500

St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre: 0161 276 6515, 24/7 support line

The Survivor Trust: 0808 801 0818 / Text 0786 002 2956

Samaritans: 116 123 – 24/7 support line

Manchester Metropolitan University Counselling, Mental Health and Wellbeing: 0161 247 3493 / Counselling@mmu.ac.uk

About the author / 

aAh!

aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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