Encouraging Women to Report Rape: Rape Myths and Realities

Despite significant strides by women’s groups to encourage reporting of rape incidents, a vast majority remain unreported. While there has been an increase in reports over the last decade, only a fraction of attempted and completed rapes are brought to police attention. The myriad reasons for unreported rapes highlight the complex interplay between consent and coercion.

The Fine Line Between Consent and Coercion

Consent sits at the heart of the definition of rape. Rape occurs only when a woman does not consent to sexual contact. Coercion, the act of compelling someone to act in an involuntary manner through threats, intimidation, or other forms of pressure or force, can involve actual physical or psychological harm to make a threat more credible. The larger the threat, the more likely it is to coerce the victim into compliance. In cases of rape by a stranger, establishing non-consensual sex through coercion is straightforward. However, when the perpetrator is an acquaintance, the waters become murkier.

Consent and sexual coercion play into societal beliefs about sexuality and gender roles. Gendered sexual behaviors and communication styles vary, with men often viewing sex as a conquest and being sexually aggressive, believing a “no” can be turned into a “yes” with enough persuasion or force. Women, on the other hand, may say “no” too softly or indirectly, not wanting to hurt feelings or endanger the relationship. In such situations, it may be challenging to determine whether the man understood that the woman was withholding consent.

Distinguishing Between Myths and Reality

Misconceptions and misunderstandings about acquaintance rape shape how it is perceived and addressed. A set of assumptions, referred to as “rape myths,” often pose significant obstacles for victims in coping with their experience and recovery.


  • A woman who gets raped often deserves it, especially if she agreed to go to a man’s house or park with him.
  • If a woman allows a man to pay for dinner, drinks, etc., it implies she owes him sex.
  • Acquaintance rape is perpetrated by men who are easily identifiable as rapists.
  • Women who do not fight back have not been raped.
  • Once a man reaches a certain level of arousal, sex is inevitable, and they cannot stop themselves from forcing a woman.
  • Most women lie about acquaintance rape because they regret consensual sex afterward.
  • Women who say “No” actually mean “Yes.”


  • No one deserves to be raped. Being in a man’s house or car does not imply a woman has consented to have sex with him.
  • Sex is not an implied payment for dinner or any other expenditure, regardless of the amount spent.
  • Women are often raped by “normal” acquaintances who look like “normal guys.”
  • Rape occurs when a person is forced to have sex against their will, whether they chose to fight back or not.
  • Everyone’s right to say “no” must be respected, regardless of the preceding activity.
  • Men are capable of exercising restraint in response to sexual impulses.
  • Acquaintance rapes are real: committed by someone you know, against someone you know.

These beliefs stem from outdated and rigid sexual stereotypes, further complicating the issue.

Overcoming the Challenge of Reporting

Rape myths contribute to women’s fear of the consequences of reporting an assault to the police. Many fear ridicule, impact on their reputation, publicity, testifying in court, having their sexual history exposed, and even retaliation from the perpetrator or his friends.

Acquaintance rapists are more likely to use manipulation and/or incapacitation through alcohol or other drugs instead of physical violence. The acquaintance rapist is a manipulator, using subtle psychological coercion, manipulation, or substances to lower a woman’s resistance and ensure compliance. These tactics are designed to confuse and cloud judgment, reducing the victim’s ability to resist. Given the burden of proving that the attack was forced, against the woman’s will, and that she resisted, acquaintance rape is difficult to prove.

However, the trauma associated with acquaintance rape is no less severe than that related to rape by a stranger. Victims may suffer physically, emotionally, and financially. Rape-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, affecting nearly one-third of all rape victims, includes sleep and eating disorders, nervousness, fatigue, withdrawal from society, and mistrust of others. Many victims experience one or several of these symptoms and some are affected for years. Many acquaintance rape victims never seek the services and support they need following their victimization, highlighting the need for greater awareness and support for reporting and recovery processes.