Misconceptions about rape

New Zealand is still mired in misconceptions about rape and sexual abuse, one of the organisers of a recent protest march says.

The SlutWalk protest, held along Wellington's waterfront in June, was designed to stimulate public debate about rape myths.

The first such protest was held after a Canadian policeman said women should avoid dressing "like sluts" to keep safe from rapists.

Maria Scannell, co-organiser of Wellington's SlutWalk, said a laundry list of mistaken beliefs still hamstrung public debate about rape.

Too many people thought that "if you're dressed a certain way you're asking for it, if you're drunk you're asking for it".

As for those who compared dressing modestly to avoid rape with carefully locking their houses at night to avoid burglary, that view was simply insulting, she said.

"A woman's body is not property. That's a really, really horrific conception."

Treating a woman's dress, drunkenness or sexual history as relevant not only shifted the blame on to the victim, it was also misleading, she said.

Women were statistically much more at risk in their own homes than out on the town, whatever they were doing or wearing.

With the Rugby World Cup looming, police have said young women need to take extra care when out enjoying night-life.

But however well-meaning that advice, it missed the point, Ms Scannell said.

"I don't want the message to be `keep yourself safe by not going out with your friends'."

Telling women not to go out or not to wear a short skirt might be valid if it reflected the truth about rape and sexual assault, but it did not, she said.

What was more important in improving public knowledge of issues about sexual assault was education for men and women.

"You get taught all about condoms and STIs ... but I don't think I was ever told in high school what consent entailed."

Jackie Edmond, chief executive of Family Planning, said better education would have numerous benefits for young people, clearing up myths not only about rape but about sexuality generally.

"Comprehensive sexuality education would be my biggest message, and it isn't mechanics of sex [only]. It's more complicated than that."

Education would also help girls in particular find a way to reconcile conflicting social expectations.

The old stereotype that "men are studs and girls are slappers" suggested that although men could be promiscuous, women should not enjoy sex or have multiple partners, Ms Edmond said.

At the same time, young women were confronted with "a sense that they should be having sex, so they're not necessarily comfortable saying no".

It was not necessarily true that young women were having a lot of sex.

The best available scientific measure of New Zealanders' sexual behaviour was the Youth '07 study conducted by Auckland University.

The study showed 35 per cent of female and 38 per cent of male secondary students aged 18 or over had had sex.

Ms Edmond said social expectations could affect the choices young women made.

"We [are] concerned with ... the levels of coercion that young women feel. And it's not necessarily [in] a violent sense."




Rape Crisis client statistics for the period July 2010 to June 2011 (statistics include reported cases of both rape and sexual abuse):

- More than half of sexual abuse victims reported the offender was a partner, family member or friend.

- Only 2 per cent of attacks were attributed to someone the victim met on the night of the offence.

- Just 3 per cent of attacks were attributed to strangers. -

The Wellingtonian