HPD focuses on replacing sexual assault and family violence myths with today’s realities

Tom Kennedy

Perhaps the most prevalent police investigation myths center around sexual assault and family violence cases.

HPD works hard to figuratively shoot down the myths with lessons on the latest realities found in case studies and ardent criminal justice research.

Herewith, the Badge & Gun attempts to sort out a few of these common myths by bringing the realities to the forefront.


Myth: Most sexual assault victims are committed by strangers.

Reality: Studies based on police records throughout the nation show almost 80 percent of rape victims knew the identity of their attacker. Their attacker was either an intimate, other relative, a friend or an acquaintance.


Myth: Because of a growing public awareness of sexual assault and family violence cases, a growing number of these cases are reported.

Reality: What is described as “a very small minority” of female sexual assault victims ever report the crime to law enforcement officers. The current estimate: only 16 to 19 percent.


Myth: In the most recent annual report covering family violence in Houston, there were 27,963 cases. The report showed the victims suffered injuries but only a few died from them.

Reality: Houston/Harris County has a way of being at the top of too many statistical categories. In 2015, the most recent statistical compilation year, 158 family violence victims were killed in Texas. Houston/Harris County led the state with 34 deaths. The second highest total was Dallas County with 13.


Myth: The most effective investigative approach to sexual assault cases is to press the victim for the pertinent details while they are fresh on her mind.

Reality: After a victim suffers from a traumatic event, his or her ability to recall details becomes difficult. To press the victim for details will seldom be productive and is likely to make an investigation inconsistent and more difficult.

Myth: Most rapists have common personal characteristics that are easily detectible.

Reality: As one veteran investigator puts it, “Ninety-nine percent of them look like you and me.” However, they are more apt to turn out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. They come from all walks of life, all ages, all cultures, education and socio-economic levels, religions and even genders.

   Myth: Most perpetrators of sexual assault undertake one violent event, then withdraw and can go long periods of time without committing another attack.

Reality: The majority of sexual assault and family violence suspects are repeat offenders.

Myth: Because of greater public awareness of sexual assault and family violence, suspects in these cases are more likely to be charged and convicted.

Reality: Not so. The suspects chances of getting away with crimes like these are still overwhelming in his/her favor. So far there is no effective deterrent outside of more effective investigations.

Myth: The number of false reports of sexual assaults are much higher than those for other alleged crimes.

Reality: No. The percentage is 2 to 8 percent – the same as the average number of false reports for all other crimes.

Myth: Rape victims “act a certain way” during the ensuing investigation.

Reality: Each will act differently, especially during questioning in the aftermath of the event. Investigations should focus on the actions of the suspect instead of the actions of the victim.