I have been following the discussions on sexual violence and rape against women in the newspaper columns. At times, some of the arguments seem to completely miss the point while at other times, it seems more of a personal vendetta rather than moving beyond ‘No means no.’ I wanted to see practical suggestions on how to prevent this heinous crime from happening and what exactly religious institutions (besides sermons and preaching) have in place to stem the continuation and spread of violence against women.
One important point that must be highlighted is the fact that not all rape is the same and thus, the factors/conditions that permit rape to take place would be different. Another point that was missed and which could have changed the trajectory of the discussion is the difference between causation and correlation between the different variables and sexual violence.
Jones from The Independent pointed out that rape and sexual violence against women are endemic everywhere, yet there is nothing inevitable about these crimes against women. Scientific theories abound, yet, no single theory accounts for this crime. Rape may be of different types: stranger, acquaintance, date, and partner (Cowan 2000) and the motivation ranges from poverty, anger, power, sadism, ethical views and attitudes projected onto the victims, to evolutionary pressures. No scientific study covers all the causative and correlative factors in all the different types of rape and therefore, when one identifies a negative correlation in one scenario/location, it may be weakly correlated in another.
Russell (1984) suggested four-factor preconditions that permit rape to take place: “factors creating a predisposition or a desire to rape, factors reducing internal inhibitions against acting out this desire, factors reducing social inhibitions against acting out this desire, and factors reducing the potential victim’s ability to resist or avoid the rape.” Russell has continued to write vehemently about the harms of heterosexual pornography and its association with sexual violence and the rape of women.
RAINN provides the alarming statistics that 97% of rapists will never spend a single day in jail and over half the cases of sexual assault are not reported to the relevant authorities in the US. UN Rape Statistics indicated an extremely high rate in South Africa followed by the Scandinavian countries, the UK, the Caribbean (including Guyana) and the United States. In South Africa and
neighbouring countries, there is a myth that having sex with a virgin cures AIDS, and research has testified to this fact when many rapists were questioned.
Surely, this is not the case in the Caribbean where sexual violence and rape are instead linked to sexual satisfaction, rage and power. But it seems that there is one common factor that is present irrespective of the society in which these crimes are perpetrated: the way women are viewed.
European countries prize themselves on equality of gender issues; yet, something is very wrong when Sweden is second highest globally! Oddly, Sven Granath, investigator at BRA (the government agency tasked with crime prevention) said in 2010, “One explanation for this increase may be partly due to the nice weather this summer.” One wonders what really happens during warm weather in Sweden and similar countries that resulted in increased rape when compared to the cold winter months. I’m sure no still means no, irrespective of the season of the year. Furthermore, in your letters column, while responding one letter writer suggested that modest clothing does not prevent rape in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I was dismayed with this counter argument since the strongest correlative indicator for sexual offences against women in these countries, along with India and Sri Lanka, is cultural attitude. In these patriarchal countries, women are often viewed as second-class citizens; they are viewed as tools that can be used to humiliate, punish or take revenge against a clan, tribe, or class. Get rid of this mentality and the cases of sexual violence in this category will dramatically decrease.
No one wants to be sexually violated. It’s a human characteristic that is shared irrespective of ones race, gender and culture. And that brings me to the point of asking the difficult question of could there be anything in the environment that gives a cue (even a false one) that will result in the violation of women? Let it not escape our minds that there are sexual predators out there who are hardwired differently and who only need (harmless and false) cues to be violated. Such false cues may only need a smile, a low cut blouse, a conversation, a particular look and it’s enough for a sadist to stalk and strike his next victim. These are particularly true in the ‘stranger’ rape category. The US Department of Justice (1994) stated that 31% of female victims reported that the offender was a stranger. Surely, these victims did not ask for that, but it did happen. Ever thought about why our parents always say don’t talk to strangers or don’t take a ride from strangers? Consider a female walking on a lonely road in the wee hours of the morning: Is she asking to be violated? Is she more likely to be violated? The US Department of Justice further stated 68% of rapes occur between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am. In order to protect women, public buses in Toronto drop off females anywhere they would like in between designated bus stops any time after 10 pm.
Precautions have to be taken and we all know innately what we must do. We can’t blame victims – perpetrators choose to do what they do. Yet, the question as to whether a victim engaged in any provocative behaviour that precipitated the action will linger in the mind. A US Federal Commission on Crimes of Violence found that 4.4% of all reported rapes involved provocative behaviour. York University in Toronto seems to be a magnet for sexual assaults against women. In January 2011, a representative of the Toronto police went to the university and advised: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Amazingly, in protest there are now ‘Slutwalks’ organised globally in protest at this statement. Yes, a woman has the right to wear what she wants and no means no, but what were the trends/correlations the representative knew of that led him to give such strongly worded advice?