Rape and Sexual Abuse

The below text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence against Women Exposed.”:

Rape is a pandemic of huge proportions that affects millions of people across the globe. The perpetrators are almost exclusively male and the victims predominantly women and girls. Their victims may be infants, adolescents, women in their reproductive years and older women. Men and boys are also raped in high numbers, usually by heterosexual males. Rape may happen in the context of “dating”, in marriage, or as part of gang initiation. Rape is widespread in areas of civil unrest and where the rule of law is weak. Rape and sexual abuse are also rife in protected and “captive” environments such as prisons, refugees and displaced person’s camps, the armed services and schools.

Countries of recent notoriety for high numbers of reported rapes are South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the rates of rape in India, the United States and many other countries are equally high. Research shows that amongst developed countries the United States has unusually high levels of rape. In 1980 the rate of unreported rape in the United States was 18 times higher than the corresponding rate for England and Wales. More recent data from the State Department of the United States in 2000 indicated that a woman is raped in that country every 90 seconds. According to a 2002 study in Ireland, 6.4 percent of the female population reported having been raped.

Cultural definitions of manhood that stress the importance of sexual conquest and potency place women at increased risk of sexual assault. Many rapist do not consider their aggressive or coercive tactics to be criminal and often feel justified in forcing a woman into having sex. Studies have shown that men do not place as great a value on sexual consent as women.

The act of sexual violence may be motivated by different impulse depending on the rapist and the social or political context in which the violation is performed. Many researchers have concluded, however, that rape is essentially an expression of power rather than an act committed for sexual gratification. They argue that while sexual arousal and even sexual gratification may be a by-product of rape, sex serves as the medium through which perpetrators of rape both demonstrate and exercise control over their victims.

Even when acting according to the same basic impulse, rapists are as varied as those who are raped, and efforts to pin down specific characteristics of rapists are inconclusive. Despite the popular representation of rapists as “sick” or depraved monsters, studies have shown that fewer than 5 percent of men were “psychotic” when they raped. The central assumption in the psychopathological model is that violent male sexual aggression is strange or abnormal, but by the prevalence of rape and the range of perpetrators links sexual aggression, instead, to social and environmental variables.

A study of 114 convicted and incarcerated rapists in the United States revealed a range of motivations from the perpetrators’ perspective. A number of rapists used sexual violence in revenge against another male and/or as punishment – by abusing another man’s woman they punish the man – while others used it as a means of gaining sexual access to unwilling or unavailable women. In one example, a man had an argument with the victim’s husband. “I grabbed her and started beating the hell out of her. Then I committed the act. I knew what I was doing. I was mad. I could have stopped but I didn’t. I did it to get even with her and her husband.

In some cases perpetrators said that rape was just a “bonus” added to burglary or robbery. The rapists found themselves in a position of power and the opportunity presented itself. One man interviewed said, “Rape was a feeling of total dominance. Before the rapes, I would always get a feeling of power and anger. I would degrade women so I could feel there was a person of less worth than me.”

Rape also was considered by some to be a recreational activity. The act was described as an adventure and an exciting form of impersonal sex which gave the rapists power over their victims. A common thread in these interviews was the objective of dominance. The analysts of this study concluded, “The pleasure these men derived from raping reveals the extreme to which they objectified women. Women were seen as sexual commodities to be used and conquered rather than as human beings with rights and feelings. Researchers came to the final conclusion that perhaps they were asking the wrong question. “Instead of asking men who rape “why?” perhaps we should be asking men who don’t “why not?”.

Organized rape can be used as a tactical device to accomplish particular political and social ends. It may be used to intimidate, to punish individual woman and social groups, to destabilize and demoralize communities or to drive unwanted people from their land. Conflicts in the last decade in the Balkans and the present atrocities in Darfur, western Sudan, as well as the mass rape women and girls during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda are examples of rape being used to achieve these kinds of ends. Man may be forced at gunpoint to rape female family members or other men, as part of the use of rape to terrorize and humiliate people.

The perpetrators in these cases are a wide range of men, uniformed and civilian, who act with the tacit or explicit approval of their political or military leaders. While many rapists in these contexts may claim, after the event, that they were coerced into committing rape, there is a long history of rape being seen and enjoyed as the spoils of war.

All text is copyright (IRIN). Full permission is given for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.

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