Archive for November, 2006

Sexual Assault and Harassment: Part 1

Posted in feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment on November 20, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“Debunking the Rape Myth

Common myths and assumptions related to sexual violence are shared the world over. They often reflect and reinforce social attitudes and customs that aggrandize male aggression while at the same time purporting female passivity. In many settings, sexual activity is popularly represented as a “battle of the sexes”, in which sexually driven men are expected to compel sexually hesitant women. The implicit message is that it is socially acceptable for sexual transactions between men and women to involve some degree of force. The explicit outcome is that the majority of victims of sexual violence around the world are female, and the majority of perpetrators are male.

Ideas about what constitutes “unacceptable” sexual behavior between men and women more often serve to protect the status quo of male dominance, such that “the volition, perceptions, and feelings of the woman or girl: are “amazingly absent from most cultural definitions of violence.” Determinations of the moral, legal or social permissibility of a given sex act are more likely to focus on the context in which it occurs – “who did it to whom and under what circumstance” – rather than on “the act itself or its impact of the woman.” This failure to consider the rights and wellbeing of women and girls is vividly demonstrated in nearly universal attitudes towards rape.

According to conventional assumptions prevalent across cultures, rape primarily happens in dark alleys or other remote locations, is committed by strangers and involves physical brutality. The act of rape is a social aberration and, therefore, a rare event. Following this logic is the notion that the majority of rapists are sociopaths – mentally ill men who have uncontrollable sexual urges. If they are not part of the “lunatic fringe”, then they are men who have been unnaturally provoked by sexually promiscuous women. In the latter model, responsibility to prevent rape falls to the potential victim, a sentiment illustrated in the recommendations of a Malaysian parliamentarian who argued, “Women should wear purdah [head to toe covering] to ensure that innocent men do not get unnecessarily excited by women’s bodies and are not unconsciously forced into becoming rapists. If women do now want to fall prey to such men, they should take the necessary precautions instead of forever blaming the men.

Such delimiting characterizations of sexual violence support impunity for the average rapist, not only because they blame the victim, but also because they disguise the global reality: that sexual assault, including rape, is more often perpetrated by someone known to the victim and occurs in her own home or in another familiar environment. Rape does not necessarily involve physical force, and the perpetrator need not be pathological. Evidence from countries around the world confirms that while the classic “stranger” rape does exist, it represents only the “tip of the iceberg” of sexual assault. Understanding the true extent of sexual violence is fraught with a number of challenges, not least of which is defining exactly what it entails.

Coercion, consent and choice

In the last 20 to 30 years, women’s rights activists have emphasized the basic human rights of women and girls – and the accountability of men and boys in respecting those rights – when differentiating between acceptable sexual contact and sexual violence. They suggest that force is not inevitable of control over women. Their work has informed contemporary definitions of sexual violence, which increasingly challenge conventional stereotypes that interpret “real” sexual violence only in the context of stranger rape.

In a 2002 global report on violence and health the World Health Organization (WHO) defined sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.” Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence involving bodily contact. Rape is a further delineating form of sexual assault that entails “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.

A key determinant of sexual violence within this definition is the issue of coercion – which may involve physical force but also can involve “psychological intimidation, blackmail or threats – for instance the threat of physical harm, of being dismissed from a job or of not obtaining a job that is sought. It may also occur when the person aggressed is unable to give consent – for instance, while drunk, drugged, asleep, or mentally incapable of understanding the situation.:

By emphasizing the concept of coercion rather than physical force, the WHO definition of sexual violence calls attention to the potentially wide range of behaviors that violate the rights of the victim. A definition based solely or even primarily on coercion presents challenges, however, because what amounts to coercion may be highly contested by those involved: A victim may experience behaviors as highly coercive when the perpetrator does not. To overcome ambiguities inherent in interpretations of coercion, many women’s rights activists have stressed the primacy of consent.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has described consent as the “legal dividing line between rape and sexual intercourse.” Another expert explained that a definition of sexual violence based on consent “recognizes and ratifies a simple principle … [which is] our personal sovereignty. We have the right not to be acted upon unless we wish to be acted upon and communicate that wish to the actor. Our silence is not our permission.”

Other feminist theorists prefer the concept of choice to that of consent because “it does not implicitly assume that men initiate all sexual overtures.” The language of choice, even more so than consent, underscores and promotes female autonomy in sexual relations.

Choice is the exception, rather than the rule, however, for many women and girls around the world. A teenage girl in South Africa observed, “Forced sex is the norm. It is the way people interact sexually.” In qualitative research in Zimbabwe, young women acknowledged their powerlessness in sexual relationships: “A woman can refuse, but then this woman will run the risk that she will be forced into sex. I would like to change it, but it cannot be done because a woman needs to follow the man.”

Even when choice is clearly absent, many women and girls who suffer sexual assault still may not view their victimization as rape because their experience is not represented in hegemonic definitions of sexual violence. Based on encounters reported by a national sample of college women in the United States, researchers concluded that from one-fifth to one-quarter of all college women are at risk of an attempted or completed rape during their college years. However, for those respondents whose experiences were categorized as completed rape according to the standard definition used by the researchers, only 46.5 percent believed the incident to be rape. Forty-nine percent said it wasn’t rape, and 4.7 percent said they did not know.

Any attempts to study sexual violence must understand this important distinction. As one women’s rights advocate noted, “Just because a woman doesn’t call it rape, doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel violated.”

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Honour Crimes

Posted in domestic violence, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, honour crimes, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, politics, rape on November 14, 2006 by breatheinspirit

All text is copyright, “Broken Bodies – Broken Dreams: Violence Against Women Exposed”:

“A culturally condoned atrocity

A young Bangladesh woman was flogged to death by order of village clerics for “immoral behaviour”. An Egyptian man paraded the head of his daughter on a stick through the streets of his neighborhood after he killed her for besmirching his name. A teenager’s throat was slit in Turkey because a love ballad was dedicated to her over the radio. A Pakistani woman was gunned down by her own family in the presence of her human rights lawyer for pursuing a divorce from her abusive husband. A 13-year-old Turkish girl’s husband slit her throat in a public square after pulling her out of a cinema and accusing her of being a prostitute. A 35-year-old Jordanian man shot and killed his sister for reporting to the police that she had been raped. A Turkish girl was killed by her father for telling the authorities that she had been raped and then refusing his demand that she marry the rapist. A 29-year-old woman was dragged from her house in Afghanistan by her husband and local officials stoned her to death for committing adultery, while the man with whom she was alleged to have had an affair was whipped and then freed.

Each of these executions was committed within the past five years in the name of “honour”. Many of the perpetrators received no criminal penalties; others served only short sentences. Considered justifiable punishment for a wide range of perceived offences, contemporary honour crimes are based on archaic codes of social conduct that severely circumscribe female behavior while at the same time legitimizing male violence against women.

Honour crimes are typically engineered by male family members but often tacitly or explicitly condoned by the community and/or the state. In many countries the responsibility for the murder itself is assigned to an underage male, thus ensuring a (reduced) juvenile sentence in the event the case is prosecuted. In most instances, the murderer is hailed as a “true man”. It is also not unheard of for female family members to act as accomplices to the killing or even to carry out the murder itself.

Global prevalence

In recent reports, both the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial and Summary Executions have highlighted the egregious type of violence against women, citing incidents in Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, India, Italy, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda, Morocco, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Yemen, as well as among migrant communities in Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Honour crimes also have been reported in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The actual scale of the problem is impossible to determine. In many cases deaths are not registered; in others murders are made to look like suicides, or women are forced or induced by their families to kill themselves. Burns or acid attacks not resulting in death often are attributed to accidents, a claim which victims may not refute for fear of further reprisals. In societies where these crimes occur, protection and support are often extended to the perpetrator rather than to the victim.

Despite the lack of reliable statistical data, estimates based on reviews of police reports and court dockets, newspaper articles and other sources in a variety of countries suggest that thousands of women and girls are murdered each year in the name of honour. Anecdotal evidence from Pakistan, for example, suggests that more than 1,000 women are victims of honour crimes annually. Over one-third of femicides in Jordan are thought to be such killings. In Turkey, an annual report of the Human Rights Association concluded that more than half of women killed by family members in 2003 were victims of honour crimes.

In 1997, the former attorney general of the Palestinian National Authority suggested that 70 percent of all murders of women in Gaza and the West Bank were honour crimes. In the same year, as many as 400 honour killings took place in Yemen, and 57 were reported in Egypt. In late 2004, 117 murders in the United Kingdom were being investigated as possible honour killings. In Lebanon, 36 honour crimes were reported between 1996 and 1998.

According to the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, the number of honour killings “is on the rise as the perception of what constitutes honour and what damages it widens.” Its global prevalence suggests that honour crimes are not unique to specific cultures, religions or classes. In fact, the justification has its roots in various social and legal systems around the world.”

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Male Perpetration: Part 2

Posted in Defining Violence, domestic violence, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, intimate partner violence, male perpetration, politics, Prostitution & Trafficking, rape on November 2, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“Making man myths

Cross-cultural studies reveal that in most communities simple anatomical maleness is not enough to be a man. Real manhood lies elsewhere and is often a “precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds.” Does this “masculine mystique” encourage toughness, dominance and extreme competitiveness at the expense of honest emotion, empathy and communication?

Violence against women is more predominant in cultures where the idea of manhood is linked to entitlement to power or male honor. Historically, wars have been intensely masculine endeavors and the majority of all warriors, soldiers, admirals, police, militias and prison wardens are and have been men. In addition, bureaucrats, politicians and those who monopolize the systems of collective institutional violence throughout the world are men.

As boys become men within these societies, attributes of action, decisiveness, aggression and supremacy are prized and closely associated with “manhood”. These qualities, however fallacious, are perpetuated and considered the “natural” order and the preserve of masculinity. The expression of these characteristics in different societies can range from subtle to overt. Socialization of this kind negatively impacts both women and men. A recent publication from Brazil called Dying to Be Men – based on studies of violent male behavior in the United States, the Caribbean, Brazil and Nigeria – suggests that because young men are losing their lives in their attempts to embody certain models of masculinity, they are literally “dying to be men”.

In many non-Western societies, strict social rules that perpetuate the notion of the dominant male also deny women access to public life, private property, or even joint custody of their children. A woman is the protected possession of a man – his housekeeper, cook, monogamous sex partner and mother of his children. Even in countries that are considered more advanced in terms of democracy and representation – those with gender-sensitive legislation and significant structural equality between the sexes – violence against women continues. Many observers blame the influence of modern media, in particular television, films and advertising, for both subtly and explicitly perpetuating patriarchal role models for men and women.

Myriam Miedzan’s Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Maculinity and Violence examines how and why males are increasingly resorting to violence and what society can do about it. “As long as male behavior is taken to be the norm,” she writes, “there can be no serious questioning of male traits and behavior. A norm is by definition a standard of judging; it is not itself subject to judgment.”

Violence and Sexual Abuse in marriage

In South Africa, researchers for the Medical Research Council estimated in 2004 that male partners kill their girlfriends or spouses at the rate of one every six hours – the highest mortality rate for domestic violence ever recorded, they claim. According to the United Nations report that same year, domestic violence accounted for more than 60 percent of murder cases in court in Harare, Zimbabwe. In Zambia, a recent study found that nearly half the women surveyed had been beaten by a male partner.

Outside Africa and throughout the world, similar statistics for domestic abuse are staggering, with only a small minority of communities apparently free from violence. “For God’s Sake!” exploded one Nigerian when questioned about his wife-beating. “You are head of the home as the man – you must have a home submissive to you.”

A high number of women who report domestic violence also report rape within their relationship. “My sex life in marriage has been dominated by rape, rape, rape – and nothing to do with love,” concluded one woman from Latin America, echoing similar claims by women interviewed in different contexts around the world.

All too often sex in marriage is not a mutually pleasurable act but a brutal service exacted by force, threat or social convention.

According to one expert on domestic violence, “At an individual level, some men are more likely to sexually assault women: men who have hostile and negative sexual attitudes towards women, who identify with traditional images of masculinity and male gender role privilege, who believe in rape stereotypes, and who see violence as manly and desirable. … Men with more traditional, rigid and misogynistic gender-role attitudes are more likely to practice marital violence.”

The perpetrators of rape within marriage are not readily characterized as any particular group. Using force in marriage to gain sexual access is a cross-cultural and cross-societal is not the monopoly of any economic or social class. In many cases those who are accused or – in isolated instances – convicted of rape in marriage may not conform to popular notions of what a rapist is. Perpetrators of rape in cultures that expect and condone the brutal deflowering of a young bride (sometimes with knives) may be committing a severe assault and rights abuse, but they would be surprised to be labeled a rapist, which illustrates the complexity of dealing with these issues on a global basis.

There are common myths about perpetrators of domestic violence. These include the notion that domestic violence is rare or that perpetrators are somehow “abnormal” men who cannot control their anger. In reality, most men who beat their wives do not exhibit violent or antisocial traits outside the home. The idea that perpetrators are driven to violence by the behavior of their partners is also a myth, as perpetrators are often unaffected by their partners’ efforts to change or avoid so-called “provocative” behavior. The notion that poverty causes violence is a myth as well: Poverty can be a contributing factor to domestic abuse, but intimate-partner violence exists at every socioeconomic level.

Whatever the myths may be, it is indisputable that domestic violence has especially frightening and tragic implications for victims, who are locked socially, economically and often emotionally into the abusing relationship and share a home with their abuser. In many countries, the environment outside the home is fiercely unwelcoming to women who leave or divorce violent husbands, seek refuge or protective custody away from their partners, or seek legal redress. In Nigeria, where there are over 130 million people and wife battering is widespread, there are only two shelters for battered women.

Law enforcement in many countries will not intervene in what is still regarded as a domestic quarrel, despite evidence indicating that without intervention (legal or social) abusers are unlikely to seek rehabilitation or stop their battering behavior. In most cases law enforcement and the judiciary are run entirely by men, who are part of the patriarchal society that tacitly or overtly perpetuates attitudes that tolerate beating women. Numerous reports from Latin America, the Middle East and Central and South Asia cite examples where law enforcement officials have delivered wives who had been beaten back to the very families and perpetrators from whom they sought refuge.

Training programs and special units of law enforcement to assist victims of domestic violence have been developed only recently in a select number of countries. It was originally believed that if a victim of domestic violence could leave the abusive relationship the violence would stop, but now it is widely accepted that leaving does not guarantee an end to the abuse. In fact, separation is often the riskiest time for women, as many abusive men continue to harass, stalk and harm their victims long after the separation, sometimes resulting in murder. In one United States study, 70 percent of the reported injuries from domestic violence occurred after a couple separated.

Many working in the field maintain that the most effective way to stop perpetrators abusing their partners is arrest and incarceration. Legally and socially, however, societies still struggle with the complexities of domestic violence, the gravity of the crime and their overall commitment to tackling it.

Great strides have been made in terms of highlighting the scale and scope of intimate-partner violence over the last two decades. While the problem remains great, there is some evidence of progress, particularly in settings where women’s rights and choices have increased and they have gained more economic independence. But in more traditional societies, where a woman is secondary to the male head of the house and where male domination or patriarchy is more overt, the overwhelming majority of violence against women goes unreported, forcing women to suffer in silence. Documenting the prevalence of male violence against women in the home in more traditional cultures warrants further research.

In recent years, much has been made of certain studies indicating that men are also victims of domestic abuse where the perpetrators are women. Some suggest that there is a degree of “gender symmetry” in domestic violence – that women abuse their partners at similar rates as men – but a closer look at the methodology used in these studies casts doubts over the veracity of these claims. Opposing studies show that only 5 percent of domestic violence cases involve female perpetrators. An examination of the reality of power relations, access to economic resources and possibilities for separation or divorce indicates that by any standards the violence and vulnerability of men who are abused by female partners is of a different calibre that the pandemic of abuse of women by male partners throughout the world.”

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