Myths and facts about sexual assault

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) – a time to build understanding about violence and victimization, and to educate the public about available resources.

Though the commemorative month was officially established 22 years ago, there are still common misperceptions about sexual assault that persist, said Jennifer Donelan, a trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and board-certified family nurse practitioner in the Gynecology & Sexual Health Clinic at the UF Student Health Care Center. It’s time to put those myths to rest.


The Victim Resources page on the Clery Compliance Program website is updated regularly and is a compendium of a variety of resources that UF offers to survivors. The page also has resources that are local to UF’s additional campuses, such as UF Health Jacksonville and the campuses in the Orlando area. The Written Explanation of Rights and Options document is available here.

Myth: The involvement of drugs or alcohol can absolve a person who commits assault.

Fact: “A victim who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent for sex, and a perpetrator is still responsible for their actions, even if they themself are under the influence,” Donelan said.

Myth: Sexual assault only happens to women. 

Fact:  Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of gender identity. In fact, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a sexual assault survivor organization that leads SAAM nationally, 5% to 6% of men and 19% of women are assaulted during their time in college.

"It's important that we recognize that sexual violence affects all people and that we all have a role to play in preventing it," Donelan said. "Sexual assault is pervasive and there is no one type of person who is assaulted."

Myth: If there is no physical force, it is not really sexual assault

Fact: Consent is an enthusiastic and freely given agreement. If someone is unable to say no or resist, that doesn't mean they have consented. Consent cannot be given if someone is asleep or otherwise incapacitated, such as under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Myth: Victims of sexual assault are "asking for it" because of how they dress or behave.

Fact: "No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, no matter how they dress or behave," Donelan said. “Consent can also be given and then withdrawn, and an assault can occur, even if consent has been given during past encounters.” 

Myth: Sexual assault is usually perpetrated by a stranger.

Fact: Most assaults are perpetrated by someone who is known by the victim and has friends or social networks in common.  Often, this may contribute to the victim feeling guilt or shame about reporting the incident. "But it's important to remember that the perpetrator is responsible for their own actions and reporting the assault can help prevent it from happening to someone else," Donelan said.

Myth: Victims should only seek care if they are reporting to law enforcement.

Fact: “As a healthcare provider, my first responsibility is to make sure survivors are safe and get the medical care they need, whether or not they plan to report. If someone is unsure about reporting, evidence can still be collected and held for a period of time so that they have options going forward,” Donelan said. 

“The most important part of the care we provide is that it is trauma-informed. The survivor has all the power in our interaction. We listen to their story find out what their needs are, and medical help is provided to ensure they are physically safe. And we help them access resources on campus and meet them where they are, at any given time,” Donelan said. 

The UF Student Health Care Center provides a list of resources that do not involve law enforcement.

Florida Bridgewater-Alford April 20, 2023