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Girls & Women

16 myths surrounding violence against girls and women


A year ago I attended a seminar in Utah where I learned a startling fact- globally, 1/3 of girls will experience some type of violence in her lifetime, whether that is being coerced into sex, beaten, or abused in another way. One in three- I still have trouble wrapping my mind around that as I think about the important women in my life.

Considering violence against women is so prevalent you would think we would all know more about it. I would expect it to be all over the news, and covered extensively in school. Regrettably, this is not the case. It’s a topic people generally feel uncomfortable talking about, and for that reason, we’re left in the dark.

Well, knowledge is power. So to shed some light, here are 16 myths surrounding violence against girls and women.

1. Myth that violence against women only affects women from certain backgrounds

Flickr: Ninja Midia

According to the American Psychological Association, “Exposure to violence transcends socioeconomic status, affecting all levels of income, education, and occupation.”

That said, women who are poor are disproportionately affected by violence, making it all the more difficult to lift themselves out of poverty.

2. Myth that sexual assault is more likely to be committed by a stranger

Flickr: Laura Goins

Just the opposite, actually. In fact, 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. What’s even more upsetting? Most often, the abuser is a member of her family.

3. Myth that survivors of sexual assault are responsible for their attack or are capable of preventing it

A young girl participates in the Singapore Slut Walk in Hong Lim Park | Flickr:Tamara Craiu

Regardless of the circumstance, sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault.

However, survivors often face harsh criticism from their communities when they come forward. They may be blamed for dressing provocatively, being intoxicated, or it might be suggested they were flirtatious and were “asking for it.”

Survivors may also be asked why they were unable to stop the attack, suggesting they could have stopped it if they had truly wanted to. Not that that kind of question should be dignified with a response, but it should be noted that in the US 29% of sexual assaults involved the use of weapon.

4. Myth that “boys will be boys”

“Stop Rape” concert in Monrovia, Liberia 2008 | Flickr:United Nations Photo

The idea that sexual assaults against women happen because the perpetrators are unable to help themselves is completely false- we have to take a step back and look at the larger picture.

Sociology 101 will teach you that men and women are socialized differently to fulfill different roles, and we’re rewarded for abiding by these ideals. Regrettably, in many societies men are raised to believe that dominance, power, and control are qualities men should aspire to having. That, combined with the belief that women are less than equal is a dangerous combination. Addressing this kind of thinking is the first step.

5. Myth that marriage implies consent

Flickr: Nishanth Jois

Consent is always necessary regardless of marital status, so it is entirely possible for a husband to sexually assault his wife. Not all countries recognize this though. In 2011 a UN report stated that 127 countries had not yet made marital rape a criminal offense.

6. Myth that violence from war only affects males

Lt. Marimakile Kiakimuakisubua is training with Congolese rebels. She joined after her mother and sister were raped by the FDLR | Flickr: Matchbox Media Collective

In countries where women do not participate in active warfare, many still experience violence outside of typical casualties. Sexual violence against women (and men in some cases) is used as a weapon of war, intentionally designed to shame, terrorize, and demoralize the enemy.

Examples of this have been seen in Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes referred to as the “Rape Capital of the World.”

7. Myth that the law will protect women from violence

Police officers in Shanghai. China is only one of many countries that do not criminalize marital rape | Flickr: Tim Sheerman-Chase

Surprisingly, 1/3 of the world’s countries do not make domestic abuse punishable by law, leaving more than 600 million women vulnerable.

8. Myth that violent/ sexual aggravators represent a tiny percentage of the population

Flickr: Alexander C. Kafka

Possibly the most frightening, in my opinion, a UN multinational study found that ¼ men have used violence against a partner and 1/10 have sexually assaulted a woman in their lifetime.

Surprised that these people would fess up? Studies like these carefully word the questions and don’t use words like “violence” or “rape,” instead they might say “Have you ever had sex with someone too intoxicated to consent.”

9. Myth that domestic violence and sexual assault are the only types of violence women experience

Malala Yousafzai, youth leader and education advocate | Flickr: Torbjorn Kjozvold/ FMS

Women & girls experience many different kinds of violence.

In some parts of the world the myth that women are responsible for being sexually assaulted is so deeply ingrained into the culture that it is considered to bring shame to the survivor’s family. To redeem the family’s honor, girls have paid with their lives in what are called “honor killings.” Acid burnings and other types of violence are also experienced by women. Education activist Malala Yousafzai, for instance, was shot by members of the Taliban for demanding an education.

10. Myth that slavery doesn’t exist today

Flickr: Ira Gelb

Shocking, but true. In 2014, we still have millions of people being trafficked into slavery to serve a variety of purposes. So what does that look like for women? 2 million women are trafficked into sexual slavery every year.

11. Myth that child marriage is a thing of the past

Sisters Nana and Zakia Abdulrahman Mohamed Ahmed.Nana got married when she was only 13 years old, and she had to stop going to the school.Zakia was married in 2010, when she was only 17 years old. | Flickr: Alberrt Gonzales Farran/ UNAMID

CARE reports that “Today, 51 million girls ages 17 or younger in developing countries are married. If child marriage continues at this rate, an additional 100 million girls in developing countries will be married within the next 10 years. That means 25,000 girls will be married every day over the next decade.”

“This practice is common in certain regions of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Girls younger than 10 years old are included in this group and many are married to men over twice their age.”

12. Myth that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) only happens to women against their will

Yvonne Kabore is a peer educator in Zitenga village in central Burkina Faso teaching the dangers of FGM| Flickr: UK Department for International Development

In some cases this is true- young girls experience FGM without giving their consent. That’s not always the case, though.

Fardosa Muse from CARE explains that FGM is “ deeply rooted in social, cultural, and traditional practices.” Some girls may want it because they believe it makes them more marriageable, while others may do it so they don’t bring shame to their families. To protect girls, educating communities about the dangers of FGM and addressing the cultural reasons behind it is the first step.

13. Myth that FGM only occurs in developing nations

A sign in Italy warns of the dangers of FGM | Flickr: Paolo Margari

While FGM is most commonly practiced in Africa and the Middle East, migrants have brought this practice to others parts of the world.

In the UK, for example, over 20,000 girls under 15 undergo FGM every year.

14. Myth that men have no role in ending violence against women

Wikimedia Commons

Around the world men are already stepping up and raising their voices to demand an end to violence against women.

Whether they are participating in public events, looking out for their friends, or raising their sons to treat women as equals, their support is crucial to ending violence against women.

15. Myth that governments are powerless to stop these kinds of things from happening

President Barack Obama signs S. 47, the “Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013,” (VAWA) | White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Enacting laws that protect women is just one of the many ways responsible governments can protect their citizens. Education, however, is equally important- as long as societies believe women are inferior to men violence will continue to happen, regardless of the law.

16. Myth that survivors of violence are unable to stand up for themselves

Flickr: Amanda Richards

Survivors of abuse are often portrayed in films as fragile and weak. While some survivors find themselves unable to recover from what happened to them, others use their voice to protect others from having the same experience.

1 Billion Rising, for example, engages survivors and non-survivors alike to come together and push for an end to violence against women.

Want to make violence against women a thing of the past, while helping women lift themselves out of poverty? Our partners at CARE are working to fight global poverty by placing special importance on women and girls. They know, as global citizens do, that when women are equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to help their families and communities escape poverty.

Visit for more information.