A woman reported to the UCSB police that she was assaulted in a remote parking lot at UCSB at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18. Upon further investigation, she retracted her story. The retraction feeds the myth that women lie about being assaulted. Although this incident was not a sexual assault, the truth is that false reports of sexual assaults occur no more than false reports of any other crime – approximately 2 percent of the time according to the FBI. This story provides an opportunity to think about other myths regarding sexual assaults and why the most common sexual assaults – acquaintance assaults – are not often reported and are rarely covered in the media.
What actually happened in this case is unknown. However, we do know that in the majority of acquaintance assaults, the survivor is reluctant to report for fear she will not be believed, or that she will be blamed or because she blames herself or finds it too painful to say that someone she trusted violated that trust.
If something happens that a woman is unable to talk about, she may choose instead to tell a story that she knows will be taken seriously and believed. We live in a world where the myth is strong that women are in danger from strangers, in the dark, alone – that the strangers use weapons and usually the strangers have dark skin. If a woman wants to be believed and not blamed, and to get a sympathetic reaction, then she must tell a story that matches what the world around her wants to believe is true.
The actual truth is that 85 percent of the assaults on women in the United States are committed by a male acquaintance. In the UCSB community, that number is even higher. Stranger assaults are rare in our community, but acquaintance assaults happen far too often. Yet stranger assaults are put on the front page of the newspaper and acquaintance assaults are almost never addressed in the media. Women are told they must take precautions such as staying in well-lighted areas and traveling in groups – not bad suggestions, except that they obscure the real problem. A typical assault in our community is committed by the man she asks to walk her home.
Carol Mosely is the coordinator of the Rape Prevention Education Program.