Busting myths and misconceptions about sex crimes

Reports of sex crimes reached a six-year high in Australia last year yet misconceptions about sexual assault are still common.

Victoria Police, with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, released a report on Thursday capturing more than 40 years of research to try and dispel the myths.

Myth: The rate of false rape allegations are high.

Reality: There is no evidence that many women make vexatious reports of sexual offences, according to the report. A range of studies show 5 per cent of rape allegations are proven false.

Myth: Real rape victims would break off a relationship with the offender or stay away from them.

Reality: Victims often stay in a relationship with their abusers for many reasons; fear for their own safety or that of their loved ones, shame or responsibility for their own rape or belief they can change the abuser's behaviour. Offenders make it difficult to break a relationship off because of the power, trust, and fear they have built with the victim.

Myth: Real victims will show distress when reporting rape to police and in court.

Reality: Research has found jurors, judges and police investigators tend to perceive emotional victims of sex offences to be more credible than unemotional ones. Many rape victims may respond calmly as a coping mechanism. But evidence shows credibility is not related to emotional display.

Myth: Real rape victims would resist and fight off the violent offender.

Reality: Offenders typically have power over their victims and groom them into compliance – this is not consent. Victims may freeze and co-operate; this can be a conscious response or they may not be able to control it.

Myth: Victims affected by alcohol consent to sex, but regret it afterwards and allege rape.

Reality: Perpetrators take advantage of victims who are heavily intoxicated and use alcohol to increase their confidence and a victim's vulnerability. They also often use it as an excuse to reduce their own culpability and accountability.

Myth: Reports of rape and sexual offences are easy to make and difficult to defend.

Reality: Incidents of sex offences and child abuse are significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted and under-convicted.

Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2008 and 2009 found only 11.9 per cent of defendants who pleaded not guilty were convicted.

Only 14 per cent of sexual violence victims report their attacks to police, surveys in Australia, Canada, the United States and United Kingdom show.

Only 20 per cent of cases are judged in court, and 6.5 per cent result in a conviction to the original offence charged.

Myth: Real victims would report rape and sexual offences immediately.

Reality: The majority of victims delay disclosing or never report what happened because of shame, confusion, guilt, fear, protecting an offender they know, or a fear they won't be believed.

The ABS found 83.1 per cent of Australian women didn't report their most recent sexual offence to the police, while the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found survivors took an average of 22 years to disclose the abuse to someone.

They most often told someone in authority in the institution, followed by a parent or police. 

Myth: Real rapes are committed by strangers.

Reality: This is very rare. The majority of rapes occur by someone known to the victim, such as a member of their family or partner, and often in the home.

The ABS found 16 per cent of women were assaulted by someone they know, compared with 5 per cent by a stranger.

Myth: Memory of rape should be clear, coherent, detailed and not contain any inconsistencies.

Reality: Victims of one-off traumatic events typically recall only three to five clear details.

When they've been repeatedly raped within a relationship, it's often difficult to isolate details of single incidents. Memories are also vulnerable to impact of drugs and trauma.

Myth: One person's word against another is not enough to convict rape; there needs to be witnesses or more evidence.

Reality: There's often only two witnesses – the victim and the perpetrator – because most offending occurs away from public view.

Victorian law says sexual offences do not require additional evidence and judges will instruct juries how to consider these issues.

Anyone needing support can contact Lifeline 131 114 or the Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732. Online you can visit www.1800respect.org.au.

- The Age