Popular perceptions of rape and sexual assault can certainly be seen to be based on misinformation. Soothill and Walby (1991) conducted an analysis of the media reporting of sex crime and found that ‘the popular imagery of rape as represented in the newspapers… typically involves strangers, madmen, multiple attacks and reckless women, some of whom brought it on themselves’ (cited in Walby and Myhill). The role of ‘rape victim’, in particular, is highly stigmatised, with a tendency for society to view rape victims as ‘damaged goods’ (Koss, 1992) with a ‘degraded status’ (Walby and Myhill).
Narrow and sensationalist media coverage helps perpetuate the myth of most sex attacks being committed by strangers. Consequently, it may be difficult for a woman raped by a man known to her to identify herself as having been raped. ‘Stranger rapes’ may also be perceived as more serious than those involving known perpetrators, despite the fact that the latter also involve a breach of trust (Soothill and Walby, 1991). Certainly, many victims of sexual attacks do not acknowledge themselves as having been ‘raped’.