Open up the papers on any day of the week and you are bound to find another article on rape. It is a pandemic. No corner of the world is safe from it.
I tend to get my daily news from the Guardian. The world’s attention is once again focused on rape and violence against women in India.
On Tuesday, a Danish woman was gang-raped near Connaught Place, a popular shopping location in the centre of New Delhi. She was lost and asked for directions. Is this what things have come to? A 51-year-old woman getting beaten and robbed, raped for daring to ask for a helping hand. No arrests were made.
Visiting India had been long on my list of must dos, but I have to admit I will not be making my way to the subcontinent in a hurry. Until the Indian government takes the issue with the seriousness it deserves, no woman – whether local or a tourist – is safe in that place. I have no desire to become yet another number in government statistics: one of 1,330 rapes reported in Delhi and its suburbs between January and October last year.
India requires more than stringent laws and doubling prison terms for rape. It needs more than criminalising voyeurism and stalking. What ought to change in India is public attitude. When interviewed, men are still of the opinion that a woman walking unaccompanied in public is asking for it. The gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in December 2012 may have caused public fury for a time, but it does’t appear to have brought about substantial change when it comes to conservative, patriarchal attitudes towards women.
“This mindset is not changing,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of India’s Centre for Social Research, “It’s a huge challenge.”
India is not the only place where sexual violence is rife. Nigeria is another such place. It comes as no surprise then that earlier this year, Nigerian and other African commentators turned on comedian Basketmouth when he posted a joke on social media trivialising rape.
Basketmouth though it appropriate to say that while white women put out after a couple of dates, African women keep holding out, so on the ninth date a bit of rape is required. This in a country where sexual violence is an epidemic. Not funny and very irresponsible.
Let us not forget of the Kenyan case too, where protesters took to the streets in Nairobi, after six men gang-raped a 16-year-old girl. The girl, who was attacked after walking home from her grandfather’s funeral in June, was able to make a positive ID of her assailants. Their punishment? Cutting grass.
The US fares no better. One of six U.S. women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. Yet did you know that in most states the legal definition of rape continues to require the use of physical force?
I’ve written in the past that the majority of women are raped by men they know. In fact, nine out of ten cases of rape are not perpetrated by strangers and yet criminal law fails to acknowledge this. Most rapes by friends, family and acquaintances are never prosecuted because, unlike sexual assaults by knife-wielding sexual predators, such rape cases involve little force. So if a woman is attacked, she’s better make sure that she gets a good beating too, because being raped in itself will not secure a conviction. How can this be?
Intercourse without consent is rape. American criminal justice ought to get in line with the times and allocate punishment accordingly.
The A to Z of RAPE
A woman who reports rape in Afghanistan risks facing more violence by becoming the victim of honour killings perpetrated by her family as well as being further victimised by being charged with adultery, a crime punishable by death.
In Bangladesh, women are subjected to the “two-finger test” in rape investigations, where a doctor inserts two fingers in the woman’s vagina to determine whether the woman is “habituated to sex” – a test also known to be used in India.
In Cambodia rape is estimated to be common, but only a very small minority of these assaults are ever reported. Women who report rape have to endure the social stigma attached to losing virginity before marriage, even when raped.
Denmark is one of few developed countries to maintain several marital exemptions in its legislation, making the prosecution of husbands who rape their wives an uphill struggle. Amnesty International has “repeatedly urged the government [of Denmark] to bring legislation on rape in line with international law. It is very disappointing that Denmark has rejected related recommendations made in the review, referring to an expert review that has been pending for two years.” (2011)
Similarly, marital rape is yet to be criminalised in Egypt. During the current Egyptian protests rape was carried out publicly and on the 3rd of July 2013, it was reported that between 91 and 169 women were raped and sexually abused in Tahrir Square in four days.
In Italy traditional attitudes towards rape have been slow in changing. Until relatively recently, it was considered an acceptable solution for a woman to marry the man who raped her as part of the rehabilitation process. There was too the infamous 1999 “tight jeans” case where the Italian Court of Cassation declared a man not guilty of rape because the woman was wearing tight jeans and it was impossible to forcibly remove them, apparently. It took the court nine years to overturn the ruling.
Rape is Lesotho‘s main social issue with the highest incidence of any country: of 1,049 women, 33% said they had been raped by the age of 18.
In 2013, the violent gang-rape of six Spanish women in Acapulco made the authorities question the safety of tourists in Mexico.
Rape in Pakistan continues to be a tool for suppressing women. The case of Uzma Ayub, a 16 year old girl, who was abducted by a soldier and policeman and repeatedly raped by several men, including an army official and policemen, springs to mind. This is a country where teenage girls are burnt alive when resisting rape and yet on the 12th of July 2013, Council of Islamic Ideology of Pakistan dismissed DNA tests as evidence for rapes, and declared that without witnesses no rapes would be recognised. It beggars belief.
The rate of sexual violence in Papua New Guinea is shocking: a UN study on Men and Violence found that 62% of men from Bougainville Island had raped a woman and 7.6% had raped a man. 14% had participated in gang rape. 69.3% had raped more than once. 15.5% had four or more victims. 71% reported their motivation being sexual entitlement, 63% said they raped for entertainment, and 50% said they raped out of anger or to punish a woman.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, with some 65,000 rapes and other sexual assaults reported in 2012.
A woman is raped every 90 minutes in Sri Lanka. Yet it takes six to twelve years to resolve a rape case and 96.5% of the men who rape experience no legal consequences.
Sweden has the highest incidence of reported rapes in Europe with 46 incidents of rape per 100,000 residents.
Yemen law does not recognize marital rape and does not provide a minimum age for marriage. Child marriage and child rape in the context of marriage is an appalling result of this legislative failure.
“In order to end violence against women, we have to end violence against children. If we end violence against children, we have a huge impact on violence of all kinds perpetuated across the globe,” said Rachel Jewkes, the lead technical adviser for a UN study in Asia and the Pacific where one in four men surveyed admitted raping at least one woman.