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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The Prevalence of Male perpetration

Posted in child abuse, child marriage, domestic violence, gender violence, male perpetration, rape on October 25, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“The overwhelming majority of violence against women and girls is committed every day and in every nation by men. Where sexual violence and exploitation takes place against men and/or boys, the perpetrators are, again, overwhelmingly male. In categories where violence is embedded in tradition, such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and “honour” crimes, women may also play an active role.

Despite the progress that has been made to introduce legal and social reforms to address gender inequality, violence against women and girls continues. Evidence suggests, in fact, that violations such as trafficking, rape, child abuse, child prostitution and pornography are on the rise. The majority of studies of gender-based violence echo the findings of two psychologists whose research led them to conclude, “Most sexual offenders are men. Men commit most of the aberrant and deviant sexual behaviours such as rape, child molestation and exhibitionism. …” Furthermore, and more relevantly, when females are involved in aberrant or illegal sexual behaviour, coercion and violence is less commonly employed.

Even though most acts of violence are committed by men – and studies confirm that men have a higher propensity for violent behaviour than women – not all men behave violently. Are men genetically motivated, or hard-wired, in a significantly different way than women? Or does society teach the sexes to act the way they do?

The nature/nurture polarity

Most researchers reject the notion that biology can be blamed for violent behavior. Male violence, they say, is not genetically based but is instead perpetuated by a model of masculinity that permits and even encourages men to be aggressive. “Men’s monopoly of violence stems from lifelong training in sexist models of masculinity.” Anthropological research shows that domestic violence is virtually nonexistent in some societies, and therefore not an inevitable human condition.

Generally, the “nurture” position rejects the idea that men have a natural propensity to violence of that men have “uncontrollable” violent and sexual urges. In the case of intimate-partner abuse, for example, observers point out that men are able to control themselves in settings where the social or professional cost of their behavior would be too high, but are unwilling to exercise the same restraint when they are behind closed doors.

Those advancing this perspective challenge apologists for male violence, who use biological arguments or the “psychopathological model” for male sexual violence to explain men’s behavior. Instead, they insist that these men are not “sick” or pathological and are responsible for their actions, behaving reprehensibly, with free, conscious choice.

The counterargument to this opinion – which is regularly reinforced and perpetuated via popular culture and religious dogma – claims that men are captive of their libidos. This view maintains that the historic and global evidence of male’s natural aggression and the biological imperative cannot be ignored. While socialization may play an important role in how people behave in different societies and at different points in history, the “nature” position argues that sexual violence is too widespread and too overwhelmingly perpetrated by males to suggest that men and women are not motivated by different forces. These arguments appear to echo 19th-century pseudo-medical claims promoted by some scientists that men were a breed apart and slaves to uncontrollable testosterone, where male promiscuity is seen as a critical vestige of evolutionary forces conferring “selective advantage” on men who impregnate multiple partners.

Other theorists, however, are situated between the two poles of “nature” and “nurture”. They acknowledge a degree of “natural male inclination”, which in combination with repeated negative socialisation reinforces violent characteristics. In patriarchal societies, a significant manifestation of male aggression is man’s perpetration of sexual coercion and violence against women.

Popular perceptions

Irrespective of this debate, there is a virtually univeral de facto acceptance amongst people and communities worldwide that men and women have different natures and different roles to play. Whatever the origin of male violence, most people are caught up in their societies and the times they live and, as a result, may play a strong part in the maintenance of these stereotypes.

In many countries, gender roles are deeply entrenched and reinforced by cultural norms, to such an extent that questioning the status quo involves risk. Even in countires that are seemingly less bound by tradition, where equal rights are codified in law and widely accepted, these stereotypes still dominate the popular mindset.

The United States and Australia are examples of industrialized countries where sexual stereotyping and violence-supporting attitudes remain entrenched among the majority. High incidents of rape, domestic abuse and child abuse in these countries are thought to be linked to a general acceptance of these stereotypes. One study recently estimated that during a 12-month period in the United States, more than 302,000 women and almost 93,000 men experienced a completed or attempted rape. In a 1995 study in Australia, 37 percent of the male participants disagreed with the statement that “Women rarely make false claims of rape.” One in six respondents to the survey agreed that “Women who are raped often ask for it.” Rape is, of course, only an indirect indicator of such beliefs or stereotypes.

Psychological research demonstrates strong evidence that violence is a learned behavior that may be passed down the generations. “The highest risk marker for a man to use violence against his wife and child is early exposure to violence in his childhood home.” A negative finding when one considers the current number of boys witnessing their fathers’ violent behavior, but also one that offers hope, perhaps, that nonviolence can be similarly learned. ”

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Violence against Girls in School: Part 2

Posted in child abuse, politics, rape, school violence, sexual harassment on October 16, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“Leading by example

Even if they do not commit such acts against students personally, teachers who do nothing to combat verbal and physical harassment by other teachers and students (usually boys against girls) send out a clear message. Their failure to act is a tacit acceptance of the status quo and communicates to the students – especially boys – what behaviors is acceptable in school.

In the United States, a teacher refused to take action against a male student who was harassing a 14-year-old girl: “I was in class and the teacher was looking right at me when this guy grabbed my butt. The teacher saw it happen. I slapped the guy and told him not to do that and went on with the lesson like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.”

One 13-year-old South African girl explained her disappointment with the inaction of her teachers after two male classmates raped her: “All the people who I thought were my friends had turned against me. And they [the rapists] were still there. I felt disappointed. … If they [the teachers] had made the boys leave, I wouldn’t have felt so bad about it.” The girl stopped attending school because of the incident.

Such dynamics allow abuse to become an integral aspect of school life. Teachers who challenge the behavior of colleagues – by opposing acts of violence or questioning the judgment of those who tolerate it – also risk professional ostracism. Although it is less well-documented, anecdotal evidence suggests that in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, female teachers also are intimidated by sexual violence and harassment. Female teachers in Pakistan who travel each day to work in villages away from their homes, for example, risk verbal harassment and even physical assault from men en route.

The perception of risk to female teachers may be a significant factor in discouraging women from pursuing careers in education. Fathers or husbands my forbid their daughters or wives from teaching because of the threat of sexual violence against female teachers. This can have a negative impact in cultures where girls’ access to education depends on the presence of female teachers. There is also evidence of sexual violence against young women in teacher-education colleges. In one study in Ghana, women said they were intimidated by college lecturers and pressured for sex in exchange for good grades, but this phenomenon warrants much further study in different country contexts.

It would be wrong to assume that the presence of female teachers alone would prevent violence against girl students. If female teachers are marginalized and oppressed by the prevailing gender dynamics of an institution, they may be able to prevent sexual harassment and abuse or provide the support girls need.

In a 2001 study in Uganda, girls felt that female teachers ignored the very real issue of sexual harassment by boys and male teachers in the school: “The [female] teacher themselves do not challenge sexual harassment in school but just choose to tolerate it, thereby giving a helpless situation to the girls.” But when female teachers also are subject to sexual harassment by male teachers and students, there is little they can do to prevent it happening to their students.

A global problem

There is a correlation between a girl’s age and the likelihood of her falling prey to violence at school. Adolescent girls are at greatest risk. Such abuses, however, are not culture-specific. Girls of every ethnic, social and economic group can be targets. Although most recent research has concentrated on schools in sub-Saharan Africa, the problem is not unique to this region. Studies and interventions in North America, Europe, South Asia and Latin America suggest that violence against girls is a problem in schools around the world.

In the United States, a 2001 survey of more than 2,000 students between 13 and 17 years of age found that 83 percent of the girls and 79 percent of the boys had experienced harassment. In the United Kingdom, research conducted with children aged 10 to 11 and 14 to 15 indicated that sexualized teasing of girls by boys in mixed secondary schools is common. Girls explained that boys called them names such as “prossie” [prostitute], flicked their bra straps, looked up their skirts and grabbed and fondled them.

In refugee camps and other conflict-affected settings, abuse of power by men in positions of authority over vulnerable women and girls is also a major issue. Teachers may exploit their status within the community and use their economic power, however slight, to manipulate students, which can jeopardize the future of entire families. Refugee children see education as a critical means to improve their families’ financial situation. Their desperation to succeed in school makes them all the more susceptible to abuse.

In a 2001 survey of 560 secondary-school girls in Botswana, 67 percent said that they had experienced unwanted touching, pressure for dates and other forms of sexual harassment. For 25 percent of them, this was a regular occurrence. A report in 2002 found that girls at refugee schools in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were subjected to abuse and exploitation, often by their teachers. The study revealed that in most cases good grades were exchanged for sex. The problem was widespread and integrated into the culture of the schools, in part because there was no system of checks and balances to protect the girls.”

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Violence against Girls in School: Part 1

Posted in child abuse, child rape, feminism, gender stereotypes, gender violence, politics, rape, school violence, sexual harassment on October 7, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“A hostile learning environment

Gender-based violence is one dimension of the broader problem of violence in schools, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways. Whatever form it takes, violence against female students and teachers creates an atmosphere of intimidation and danger in an environment that should nurture and inspire.

While both boys and girls can be victimized at school, there are specific forms of gender-based violence to which girls most often are subjected. It may be verbal harassment – in the form of so-called teasing – or it may be of a more physical nature, such as unwanted touching and contact. It can also be more overtly violent, as in cases where girls are sexually assaulted or raped on or near school premises. Research in schools in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Malawi has shown that violence against girls includes sexual propositions to girls by older male students and teachers, as well as the use of sexually explicit language by teachers and students. Overtly sexual graffiti also can intimidate young women and create a hostile school environment.

Girls are more susceptible to violence because of inequities of power and status in society. Boys who are abused, however, usually are victimized by other boys as punishment for not conforming to the prevailing norms about what constitutes suitable male behavior or appearance. Their perceived weakness lowers their standing in the school hierarchy, making them vulnerable to taunting , bullying and other forms of aggression. One boy in the United States was scared to admit to his male friends that he disagreed with their harassment of female students: “Some of the boys that I considered my friends even began to do it [sexually taunt girls]. It felt awful to watch, but if I said anything, it wound not stop them and they would hurt me.” While it was difficult enough for girls to speak out about their experiences of violence, notions of appropriate masculine behavior make it even harder for boys to admit that they, too, are targets of abuse.

Such oppressive control of sexuality in schools also pressures boys to follow certain models of masculine an heterosexual behavior – which can result in greater acts of violence against girls. These notions are reinforced in many ways – formally through the curriculum and teaching materials, and informally, through the words and actions of teachers and other role models. Boys may feel the need to “prove” themselves, and one way of doing so is to sexually harass girls, either verbally or physically – and to do so publicly. In some circumstances this may go as far as gang rape. Human Rights Watch, for example, has documented cases in South Africa where girls as young as nine years of age were raped by two or more boys on the school campus.

Girls, too, are under considerable peer pressure to conform to gender norms, such as making themselves physically attractive, tolerating harassment and allowing themselves to be the target of sexual jokes and innuendo. While there may be initiatives in place to make schools more “girl-friendly”, the underlying dynamic is one of gendered power imbalances, with boys and men – and their perspectives – dominant. In much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, girls who attend upper primary and secondary schools are a very small minority. In countries such as India, Chad, Malawi and Mozambique, less than 50 percent of girls who start school remain until Grade 5. Their institutions are dominated by male teachers and male students, and decision-making at all levels rests clearly in male hands. In Southern Sudan, for example, less than 7 percent of teachers are women, and in Bolivia only 16 percent of all head teachers are women. Women hold only 30 percent or less of teaching posts in 16 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Female teachers usually are concentrated in urban settings, with far fewer in rural and remote areas.

Such male-dominated contexts make it very difficult for girls to assert themselves and to challenge male power. Doing so may men ostracism and losing the support of friends and family. Reports from South Africa, for example, indicate that boys specifically target girls they perceive to be arrogant and assertive, such as prefects, student leaders or girls who perform well in school. Girls who are subjected to violence in school often have little recourse for complaint or even support – especially at the secondary level, where there are usually fewer girls compared with boys and very few female teachers. The majority of teachers are men, many of whom condone the behavior of boys – or even worse, are perpetrators themselves. Girls may fear retaliation or negative consequences, such as exam failure or undue punishments, if they speak out and especially if they name the perpetrators.

A violation of trust

In many instances, the very people who are in positions of trust in a school and responsible for the well-being of students are the perpetrators of gender-based violence. A number of studies highlight the prevalence of sexual misconduct by teachers and the extent to which they neglect their duty to care.

A male teacher in Kenya was accused of grading girls based on their looks after making them parade in front of him at the head of the class while he studied their figures. In a study in Botswana, 20 percent of girl students said that they had been propositioned for sex by teachers. Ten out of 16 girls at a school in Ghana had been asked for sex by teachers, and five of them knew of a girl in their class who was having sex with a teacher. In a similar study in Zimbabwe, 19 percent of the girls interviewed had been propositioned by a teacher, and a much larger number of them (63 percent) knew other girls who had been approached. Girls reported that teachers were quite open about their intentions, making advances on girls during class and sports activities. Some girls were thought to accept such propositions for financial benefit, to be favored in class, to avoid punishment or to gain better marks. In South Africa, one teacher who sexually abused a number of students offered a young woman high grades in exchange for sex:

“I went to his dorm and walked to the lounge. He gave me a hooch [an alcoholic drink]. I was lame. I knew what was happening to me, but I couldn’t move. He picked me up and took me to his room and started taking my clothes off. He took his clothes off. He’s twice my size and, like, five times my weight and has so many muscles. Then he penetrated me. When I came to, I got up and went to my dorm. … I was scared to tell anyone because I was afraid no one would believe me. I had been raped before, and no one believed me then. … The next day he asked me to come back. I gave him back his key and said I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. … About a week later he asked me if I would come do Afrikaans with him, and that he would give me good marks.”

Students who were the subjects of a study in Pakistan reported that teachers forced them to perform sexual acts by threatening them with or inflicting corporal punishment. Physical punishment, with its sexual undertones, is another way in which male teachers assert their power over female students, and in which the sex-power-gender dynamics between men and women in society at large are played out in the school setting.]

Where teachers are underpaid and lack access to professional support and development opportunities, sexual relations with students may be considered a “fringe benefit”. This is especially true in remote areas, where there are rarely effective systems in place to supervise teacher conduct or prosecute incidences of violation. Girls and their families may think it is futile to seek justice. Futhermore, not all parents, teachers and students disapprove of such relationships. If a girl becomes pregnant by a teacher, parents may be reluctant to pursue prosecution. In some very poor communities – in Southern Sudan, for example – families actually may welcome the pregnancy, as it might compel the teacher to marry the girl or pay compensation. In other contexts, parents feel disempowered and are unaware of how to challenge a teacher’s behavior.”

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Abuse of Older Women: Part 2

Posted in elderly abuse, feminism, gender violence, HIV, rape, sati, widow cleansing on September 22, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“Deadly traditions

All over the world, women live longer than their partners. Some forms of violence against older women are based on cultural practices that specifically target widows, who are often regarded as insignificant without their husbands. While widows of all ages are subjected to mistreatment, older widows can be particularly vulnerable when their age lowers their status in the community and makes caring for themselves more difficult.

In many countries, including Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Ethiopia, India, Lithuania, Malaysia, Russia, South Africa and Sudan, over half of the women over age 60 are widowed. In 15 out of 16 countries listed in a 2002 report on the state of the world’s older people, between 5 percent and 25 percent of men over age 60 are widowers, whereas 35 percent to 65 percent of women over age 60 in the same countries are widowed, a huge discrepancy. The same is reflected throughout Asia: More than 50 percent of older women and only 13 percent of older men are widowed. The sati tradition in India, where women immolate themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres, dates back thousands of years. Early accounts describe tens of thousands of widow queens practicing group sati after the death of their king, while others recount individual acts of sati. Even though the custom was abolished officially in 1829, rare but reported incidents continue, and many shrines still exist to honour thousands of these widows.

There are different explanations for the motivation behind the custom, ranging from a widow’s desire to join her husband in the afterlife – since traditional Indian culture dictates that a woman without a man is incomplete – to her relatives’ desire to preserve family inheritance, as property is divided amongst male heirs after a widow has died. Recent reports suggest that not all widows who follow the tradition do so willingly: In 2002, a 65-year-old widow from Madhya Pradesh died from immolation on her husbands’ funeral pyre. Authorities suspected that the woman, who had separated from her husband, did not commit sati of her own free will because she “did not have good relations with her husband” and “the grown-up sons did not make any attempt to discourage their mother from sitting on their father’s pyre.

Today, in parts of India where popular sati shrines exist, communities may encourage widows to follow the practice, as they stand to earn money from donations by visitors to the shrines. Many people in India, however, are speaking out against the tradition. According to one activist, regardless of whether the motivation for a widow to commit sati is forced or voluntary, “no virtuosity of semantics can justify or condone such an act of nihilism. … It is totally unacceptable to distinguish between forced sati as being criminal and voluntary sati as being cultural tradition. There never was and never can be a cultural tradition that sanctifies the death of a human being.

The tradition of wife inheritance in parts of Africa is rationalized by some as being essential to keeping widows integrated in their communities. In many countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, a widow becomes the property of another man from her village, usually a brother or close male relative of her late husband. It has been argued that the custom benefits widows by offering them security, but because the practice is obligatory, it should be considered a form of gender-based discrimination that results in sexual abuse.

A deadly implication of wife inheritance is the degree to which the custom can transmit HIV. A widow who is HIV-negative faces the risk of contracting the virus from the man who inherits her. In other cases, a widow who has contracted HIV from her late husband – who may have died from an AIDS-related illness – will transmit the disease to her inheritor when she is forced to have sex with him. In the context of polygynous practices, this can set off a chain of events in which the man transmits the virus to his other wives, who may in turn infect others if they are widowed and inherited, and so on.

Notably, in Western Kenya, the tradition of wife inheritance is practiced by a number of communities – which not coincidentally also have the highest rate of HIV infection in the country. In 2000, the HIV-prevalence rate in Nyanza province, for example, was 22 percent, compared to the national HIV-infection rate, which was 13 percent. Despite the risks, the tradition of wife inheritance continues because most widows have no alternative. If they refuse, they risk rejection by their communities.

Widow cleansing is another custom that denies women their basic rights and increases their risk of HIV infection. According to the practice, a woman is required to have sex with a village cleanser after her husband dies in order to be reaccepted into her community. The tradition exists in Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Ivory Coast, Congo and Nigeria, among other countries. Widow cleansing “dates back centuries and is rooted in the belief that a woman is haunted by spirits after her husband dies. She is also thought to be unholy and “disturbed” if she is unarried and abstains from sex.” Another traditional belief holds that a widow who has not been cleansed can cause the whole community to be haunted. In many instances a widow must undergo the ritual before she can be inherited.

A widow cleanser in Malawi explained that the “tradition dictates that he sleep with the widow, then with each of his own wives, and then again with the widow, all in one night.” He admitted that he never uses condoms and acknowledged that he may be infecting hundreds of women, or even himself. A Kenyan widow cleanser expressed equal disregard for condom use. He said that the widows “wouldn’t really be cleanses if the condom was there.”

Even women who are aware of the risk of HIV infection may submit to cleansing rituals because of community pressure. One woman from Malawi described her feelings of resignation and shame: “I was hiding my private parts. … You want to have a liking for a man to have sex, not to have someone force you. But I had no choice, knowing the whole village was against me.”
Another Malawian woman, Paulina Bubala, who is now the leader of a community group for people living with HIV/AIDS, first participated in an alternative rite but was ultimately forced to undergo a widow-cleansing ritual. For the first step of the cleansing rite, Paulina and her co-wife “covered themselves in mud for three days. Then they each bathed, stripped naked with their dead husband’s nephew and rubbed their bodies against his. Weeks later, the village headman told them this cleansing ritual would not suffice. Even the stools they sat on would be considered unclean, he warned, unless they had sex with the nephew. “We felt humiliated,” she said, “but there was nothing we could do to resist, because we wanted to be clean in the land of the headman.”

Witchcraft accusations also result in violence against older women in some African countries. In Tanzania, an estimated 500 older women are murdered each year because of witchcraft claims. In Mozambique, more than 90 older women were victims of violence in one month, the majority a result of witchcraft allegations. When communities cannot find logical explanations for events, “such as a death or crop failure,” they may accuse older women in their village of witchcraft.

Such accusations might be used to justify driving an older woman from her home, stealing her possessions or killing her for her property. Ntombama Mlalazi, a 62-year-old widow, was accused of being a witch in her village in Zimbabwe and ordered to submit to an exorcism by her local chief. “People were dying, and tsikamutanda [witch hunters] said I was responsible. They made me crouch over a bucket with boiling water and covered me with a blanket. When I cried out the the steam was hurting me I could hear the tsikamutanda saying the demon was leaving me.”

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Abuse of Older Women

Posted in elderly abuse, feminism, gender violence, rape on September 19, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“Taboo and inconceivable

There has been slow but increasing awareness of elderly abuse over the past 20 years. As challenging as it is for the population at large to acknowledge, it is even harder for older people to admit that they have been victimized. As a result, statistical evidence on the extent of elderly abuse is scarce.

A 2002 World Health Organization (WHO) study on the abuse of older adults in Germany, France, Sweden, Thailand, Kenya and Columbia reinforced “how difficult elder abuse is for some older adults to discuss.” Even when research participants do acknowledge sexual abuse, they tend to deny its extent or impact. Older people are often reluctant to reveal incidents of sexual violence because discussion of any sexual activity is often deemed inappropriate, “rendering the disclosure of abusive situations even more taboo and inconceivable.”

The global proportion of people aged 60 years and older is projected to double between 2000 and 2050 from 10 percent to 21 percent. Because women make up the majority of older adults in almost all countries around the world – and because the proportion of women to men increases with age – it is important to understand the forms of violence against older women and the cultural traditions that place them in peril.

Older women are more vulnerable to abuse than older men and are burdened with a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that may increase their susceptibility. What holds true in youth remains so in age: In most instances, “Those who are victims are female; those who abuse are male.” Violence and abuse against older women can be sexual, physical or psychological and also can include material or financial abuse and neglect. It can occur in the home, in institutions or as a result of harmful cultural practices that specifically target older women.

Abuse in the home

Researchers have identified domestic violence as the most common form of abuse against elderly females, and many women who suffer at the hands of their partners when they are young continue to be abused in their old age. In a South Korean study 21.5 percent of elderly married couples admitted to experiencing intimate-partner violence. The research showed that older men with a history of domestic violence abused their wives throughout their relationships. In some cases, the abuse did not begin until later in the marriage, when a husband’s frustrations with domestic changes that accompany older age, such as retirement, caused him to act out physically against his wife. In a 2003 study in the United States, 38 older women between 55 years and 90 years of age discussed their experiences with domestic violence. Many of the women admitted that they had stayed in violent relationships because societal expectations at the time of their marriage required them to “submit to the physical and sexual wishes of their husbands.”

Older women without intimate partners may be particularly vulnerable to abuse by other family members. Sons, for example have been implicated as perpetrators of sexual violence against their mothers. In research in the Cape Flats township in South Africa, “Older people identified sexual abuse as the most common form of violence, including adult sons forcing their mothers to have sex with them.” One older woman explained the indignity of such abuse:

“When you are a mother…left behind with children who are boys, there is one amongst your children … he wants to sleep with you and wants that you must not talk about it … You are afraid because you do not have the strength. He does that thing as he pleases.”

In a British study, more than half of the older women who had been sexually assaulted were abused by their adult sons, and most of the abuse was vaginal rape. One theory suggests that adult sons who sexually assault their elderly mothers are assuming the roles of their abusive fathers. Another reason for this kind of abuse is the misconception in some communities that sex with older people can cur HIV/AIDS, a counterpart to the myth of the “virgin cure”.

Although studies have shown that sexual abuse at home usually is perpetrated by a relative, it also can be inflicted by unrelated domestic caregivers or by random assailants. While many people think that rape is a “sexually motivated crime” that affects only younger women, it is also, in fact, perpetrated against older women, whose perceived or actual vulnerability makes them likely victims. In one case in the United States, a 19-year-old male broke into the apartment of a 76-year-old women, “ripped off her clothing, raped her vaginally, then anally, and finally assaulted her vaginally with an umbrella lying nearby. He used a piece of glass from the broken window to cut her throat.” In another case, a 20-year-old offender assaulted and murdered a 77-year-old woman. He “repeatedly stabbed her in the face, chest, and vagina with a butcher knife.”

In Eastern Europe and Russia, older women are becoming more frequent targets for criminal attacks. In the Caribbean, where many older women have been sexually abused, one woman expressed her concern about being raped by youth gangs: “I am afraid to go out alone, even on the beach or for a little walk.” Latin America has been identified as a region with particular social conditions that exacerbate violence against the elderly, including civil war, crime and drug-related violence. In Zimbabwe, 30 percent of the respondents to a study on violence against the elderly said that the threat of being attacked was severe enough to prevent them from participating in their own communities.

Abuse in institutional settings

While institutions such as adult-care facilities and hospitals can provide elderly people with support and security, residents are still at risk of sexual abuse by staff, other residents and visitors. One study of sexual crimes against the elderly in the state of Virginia in the United States revealed that 71 percent of assaults against older people took place in nursing homes. Many incidents are difficult to investigate, however, because the age and health of the victim and/or perpetrator may compromise his or her ability to recollect important details of the assault.

There are no national or cross-national studies that focus specifically on sexual abuse in institutions, but the cases that are reported illustrate the types of crimes that are being perpetrated. For example, an 84-year-old male resident of a nursing home in the United States committed numerous abuses: “One aide saw him rubbing an elderly woman through her adult diaper, another caught him on top of a resident, her pajamas pushed up around her neck. He was found in one woman’s room as she cowered behind a chair, naked.” In another case, also in the United States, police found an elderly woman who had run away from her nursing home wandering near a major highway. She did not want to return: “I want to die. Please hit me with your car,” she begged. Several weeks later a nursing assistant walked into the woman’s room and found a frequent male visitor with his hands between the woman’s legs.”

While the number of older adults living in care facilities is low – between 4 percent and 7 percent in developed countries, between 1 percent and 4 percent in Latin America and even lower in other developing regions – lack of regulation or enforcement of rules at hospitals and nursing homes can create environments that are unsafe for older females. In developing countries, elderly patients are frequently mistreated in institutions, many of which lack the necessary structural capacity and personnel. In Kenya, for example, the head of one hospital admitted, “Older people are a big headache and a waste of scarce resources. The biggest favour you could do to me as an older people’s organization is to get them out of my hospital.”

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

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Sex Trafficking: Part 2

Posted in child abuse, child prostitution, feminism, gender violence, mail-order brides, Prostitution & Trafficking, rape, sex trafficking, slavery on September 18, 2006 by breatheinspirit

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

“Health risks and consequences

As each trafficking incident unfolds, the victim experiences threats to her physical and mental health. These risks have been catalogued in detail in a multi-country study of trafficking covering Albania, Italy, the Netherlands, Thailand and the United Kingdom. From the pre-departure stage, to the travel, transit and destination stages, through to detention, deportation and integration or return and reintegration, women and girls may experience repeated physical, sexual and psychological abuse or torture, including forced or coerced use of drugs and alcohol, lack of adequate food, withholding of medical treatment, forced unprotected sex, threats or intimidation of their loved ones, denial or privacy, frequent relocation, public discrimination and social exclusion.

Acute and chronic physical and mental health problems are the frequent outcome. Beatings and/or rape initially may be used by traffickers to establish their authority, instill fear and discourage any attempts to escape. Victims’ failure to comply with traffickers’ demands may result in further violence. Physical and sexual assault also occur in encounters with clients. Because many young women and girls who are trafficked for prostitution are unlikely to be able to negotiate safer sex, they are also highly vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. In all forms of prostitution, the links to HIV vulnerability are high, especially when clients are violent and/or refuse to use condoms. In Nepal, HIV prevalence among prostitutes is estimated at 20 percent. In Cambodia, that figure climbs to 29 percent, and in Zambia to 31 percent. In South Africa, as many as 70 percent of prostitutes are infected with HIV.

Other potential consequences of the abuse and torture suffered by trafficked women and girls include forced and/or unsafe abortions, malnutrition, tuberculosis, hepatitis, depression, self-harm, addiction and, ultimately, death. “Neary” and “Svetlana” are among the incalculable number of women for whom trafficking proved fatal.

“Neary” grew up in Cambodia. Her parents died when she was a child, and – in an effort to give her a better life – her sister married her off when she was 17. Three months into the marriage, Neary went to a fishing village with her husband, who rented a room in what she thought was a guest house. But when she woke the next morning, her husband was gone. The owner of the house told her that she had been sold by her husband for $300 and that she was actually in a brothel. For five years, Neary was raped by five to seven men every day. In addition to brutal physical abuse, Neary was infected with HIV. The brothel owner threw her out when she became sick, and she eventually found her way to a local shelter. She died of HIV/AIDS at the age of 23.”

“Svetlana” was a young Belarusian looking for a job in Minskland when she met some Turksih men who promised her a well-paying job in Istanbul. Once Svetlana crossed the border, the men confiscated her passport, took away her money and imprisoned her. Svetlana and another foreign woman were sent to the apartment of two businessmen and forced into prostitution. In an attempt to escape, Svetlana jumped out of a window and fell six stories to the street below. According to Turkish court documents, the customers called the traffickers instead of taking her to a hospital. Svetlana died as a result of her injuries, and her body lay unclaimed in the morgue for two weeks until Turkish authorities learned her identity and sent her body to Belarus.

The supply side of the sex-trafficking equation

Some victims of sex-trafficking are simply abducted or relocated internally or transnational. Many others, however, choose to leave their homes in search of a brighter future. Deceived by traffickers’ promises of the good life, they have no idea that they will be forced into prostitution. Even the few victims who understand and accept that they will be working in the commercial sex industry cannot anticipate they extent to which they will forfeit control over their health and welfare. They may believe they are choosing the best of possible options.

The supply side of the trafficking equation is made up of the conditions that cause individual women and girls to be vulnerable to trafficking. Researchers have described a convergence of “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors for an individual woman or girl might include domestic violence, child sexual abuse, single parenthood or inducement by impoverished parents or criminal husbands. At the broader societal level, lack of education and employment opportunities, economic crises or war. HIV/AIDS is another push factor, to the extent that the pandemic is leaving an increasing number of the world’s children orphaned and vulnerable. Pull factors might include the hope of a higher standard of living, shifting and/or increased migratory flows and , for many women and girls, “the timing and apparent quality of the offer to depart.”

According to one expert, “Traffickers are extremely clever and full of a lot of common sense.” In other words, they choose their targets carefully. The particular vulnerabilities of women and girls that make them the preferred mark of traffickers are fundamentally linked to gender-based discrimination, oppression and violence. Where women have little power, rights or opportunities, they are at greater risk of being trafficked. As such, trafficking is as much a product of violence against women and girls as it is a source. In a remote village in Nepal, for example, girls traditionally are afforded very few rights within their families or society. Their disempowerment is a boon for those who control their fate:

“In Chautara, a Tamang village north of the Kathmandu Valley, Bhim Tamamang is a relatively wealthy man. His cottage is roofed with tin, and his son’s motorcycle is parked outside, next to the buffalo shed. Although he has no electricity, a television stands in the corner of the room, covered in cloth. “We will have electricity here in a few months,” he says. Bhim’s prosperity is a result of his fortune to have fathered four daughters. Three are working in the brothels in Mumbai. The fourht, age 12, will go next year. “Gurung and Magar families send their sons to the army. Their sons send money home. Why shouldn’t we send our daughters to help us?”

The demand side of the sex-trafficking equation

For many individuals operating at the local level, such as Bhim Tamang, poverty alleviation is a driving force for engaging in trafficking. In countries including India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal and Thailand, girls may be sold into prostitution to pay off money loaned to their parents. Further along the chain of exploiters, all the way up to the organized-crime networks, commercial profit is the primary incentive in the escalation of human traffic around the world. Established routes used by drugs and weapons racketeers, especially in southeastern Europe, facilitate the illegal trade in humans. Many of these routes pass through “transition countries”. In these countries, which often are marked by war or steep economic decline, the forced sex industry is 10 times for lucrative for exploiters that other forms of forced labour.

Regardless of the elements of poverty, greed and organized crime, no trafficker would be successful without market demand. The sex industry throughout the world is the most recognized source of demand for the trafficking of women and girls. In some settings, sex tourism further feeds the incentive for trafficking.

It is not just the sex industry itself, however, that promotes sex trafficking. Racial and social discrimination within the sex industry figure prominently in the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. According to one expert, “Research shows that historically and cross-culturally, a large percentage of clients seek prostitutes whose racial, ethnic, caste or national identities are different from their own. Thus we find that women and children in prostitution serving local demand are often migrants, and that men’s prostitute use increases when they are abroad.”

By importing and exploiting foreign prostitutes, traffickers are better able to meet demand criteria, and at reduced cost. Hence, a sign outside of a sex club in Hong Kong reads: “Young fresh Hong Kong girls, White, clean, Malaysian girls; Beijing women; Luxurious ghost girls from Russia.” Mitko, a pimp working in Bulgaria promises customers, “Ten minutes and I can get you a girl – any girl – blond, brown, black or white.”

Another perceived attraction of a trafficked woman or girl is her powerlessness. She is significantly less likely to have authority in the sex transaction than a voluntary commerical sex worker who is legally or otherwise empowered to exercise some measure of control over her working conditions. If she is young, the added promise of virginity attracts men seeking to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. Conversely, clients who already have sexually transmitted infections may believe, according to the myth of the “virgin cure”, that sex with a virgin will heal the disease. In a study conducted in 2003 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), three-quarters of the 185 clients surveyed expressed a preference for prostitutes under the age of 25, and 22 percent preferred those 18 years of age or under. For many of these clients, this predilection is related to the fact that younger women and girls will be more docile in the sex transaction.

Yet another source of demand for trafficking is men seeking brides, domestic workers or sex slaves. While consensually arranged marriages do not fall within the trafficking rubric, the conditions in which a young bride may find herself once she has entered the marriage may amount to trafficking. The mail-order bride industry has come under scrutiny by trafficking experts for this very reason. The largely unregulated trade of mail-order brides follows traditional trafficking patterns. Brides from impoverished countries within the former Soviet Union, Asia and Latin America are sent to paying clients in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. In the most extreme scenario, according to one expert, a mail-order bride client “may go so far as to undertake serial sponsorships or immigrant women to supply new recruits for prostitution rings. In this case, he will hold the bride in debt bondage because he paid for her to immigrate to North America, and then force her to participate in slavery-like practices in order to obtain her freedom.”

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

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