Breaking Down Sexual Assault Myths
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
ANCHORAGE - April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Alaska leads the nation in sexual assault rates.
Myths surrounding rape are feeding the epidemic, according to the group Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), which says we can’t ignore the statistics. If you live in Alaska, you're two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than anywhere else in the country.
So why has it become a horrible epidemic? Advocates say that's because common myths are used all the time, especially in court.
One big example was in the trial of convicted serial rapist Anthony Rollins. In sexual assault trials, experts say defense attorneys blur the lines between myth and reality.
“None of these things are sexual assault. Even taken together they're not sexual assault, they're bad sexual behavior,“ said Rollins’ attorney Susan Carney when she asked him if he believed he had committed a crime during his trial back in February 2011. “No,” said Rollins. “If I had committed a crime, I would have showered or washed my uniform, I would have done whatever I needed to do to cover up the fact that I’d committed a crime, but I didn’t think I’d committed a crime.”
Only after a jury convicted him did Rollins separate fact from fiction. “I am truly sorry for my actions that led to this trial,” said Rollins in his sentencing hearing on Friday.
Still, testimony was used during the trial to discredit the victims, including an Anchorage Jail correction officer who testified she saw one victim dancing while on the phone. “…Movements back and forth, from what I see on the TV, if there was a pole, she had her back to the phones,” said Aileen Cannon. “Sitting on the phone, sliding across back and forth on the phone, at one time, she held the phone, was tossing her hair, stuck her butt out and was twitching.”
Focusing on the victim, social workers say, puts power in the hands of the attackers. “People who live a risky lifestyle are targeted by perpetrators,” said Standing Together Against Rape Executive Director Nancy Haag. “Their credibility to the courts may be less, law enforcement may be less likely to believe them, and their friends may be less likely to believe them.”
“’Oh, she was drunk therefore she must have said yes,’ that's not the way it is,” said APD spokesperson Lieutenant Dave Parker. “We've heard things like, ‘oh, the girl was asking for it because she was dressed provocatively,’ that's wrong, that's just wrong.
Last week here in Anchorage a case against a man accused of raping his stepdaughter ended in a hung jury.
STAR advocates say this shows why it's important to break down the myths.
Some other myths include: You can't be raped in a relationship – you can. Delayed reporting means the assault didn't happen – that's not true. And another big myth is that sexual assaults only happen to women – men and boys are indeed raped.
There was a lot of response to a question on Facebook about sexual assault myths. Anchorage resident Melissa Hurt wrote, “What about the myth that reporting your assault will result in a conviction or justice? That certainly isn't always true. How about asking why Alaska is the state with the most sexual assaults or what are the victimization rates in our towns and villages?"
Anchorage resident Karen Possible wrote she feels people have to own the consequences of their actions. She goes on to write, “If I am rock climbing and I fall and get hurt, or if I overeat and get fat, I don't expect society to care for my health care costs. If I get drunk and go home with a stranger, I have to own that what happens to me is partially my responsibility.” Karen says a rapist should be punished but people have to take control over their lives or they will always be victims. “That people judge us by how we appear and juries do too, even though they may not admit it."