One in four: Asia’s high rate of sexual violence

A UN survey has produced the shocking statistic that a quarter of men in Asian countries have committed physical or sexual violence against women

Courthouse steps: protesters in New Delhi, where four men were yesterday sentenced to death for the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus last December. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Courthouse steps: protesters in New Delhi, where four men were yesterday sentenced to death for the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus last December. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Sat, Sep 14, 2013, 01:00

A United Nations study of 10,000 men in the Asia-Pacific region set out to reveal the true extent of rape culture in the region, but its findings – published this week – are far worse than even those familiar with the region were expecting.

About one in 10 men in some parts of Asia admitted raping a woman who was not their partner; when their wife or girlfriend was included, that figure rose to about a quarter.

Nearly half of the men interviewed in the study, entitled, “Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?” admitted using physical violence or sexual violence against their female partner. The questioners did not use the word “rape”.

The study is by UN body Partners for Prevention, and in it men were asked about how they used violence against women; other questions covered employment, childhood experience, gender attitudes and practices, childhood, sexuality, family life and health. Interviews were conducted with men at sites in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea.

Xia Xueruan, a sociology professor at Peking University, says the prevalence of traditional Asian culture had a lot to do with the issue, even though the region has undergone rapid economic growth in recent years.“For China, during the recent years of fast economic development, people seem to have lost their moral compass. And many people sometimes simply are confused with which to believe. Therefore, men dare to rape,” says Xia. “Moreover, the old concept in Asia that people treat women as inferior to men still remains, which means as a result that men may not think raping women is a major issue.”

Education is also a big factor. “The relatively low position for women in society makes them less likely to receive good education. Thus, many women do not know how to protect themselves and defend their rights.”

On Sina Weibo, China’s version of the banned Twitter, many commentators said they didn’t believe the survey. Zhu Shuofan, a surgeon at the Zhejiang Provincial People’s Hospital, said on his Sina Weibo account: “There are many countries in Southeast Asia. How can the UN jump to such stupid conclusion by only surveying six countries? Who is going to believe this UN report? How did the UN fabricate such a rumour?”

Gang rape in India has been in the news lately, but China has its own gang rape issues. In one ongoing case, Li Tianyi, the 17-year-old son of a well-known People’s Liberation Army (PLA) singer, is one of five men accused of gang-raping a 23-year-old woman, surnamed Yang, in a hotel in Haidian in the west of Beijing in February after a night of drinking.

He told the court he was drunk and could not remember anything of the evening, but denied beating the woman or having sex with her. Chen Shu, Mr Li’s lawyer, is arguing that the plaintiff was a prostitute, and the matter should be tried as a prostitution case rather than rape. In the West, the notion that rape of a prostitute is not possible is no longer something you hear in a courtroom, but attitides in Asian countries are different.

In general, though, there appears to be little legal recourse. Among the men who had admitted to rape, between 72 per cent and 97 per cent did not experience any legal consequences.

The survey showed that men begin perpetrating violence at much younger ages than previously thought. Half of those who admitted to rape reported that their first time was when they were teenagers; 23 per cent of men who raped in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, and 16 per cent in Cambodia, were just 14 years old or younger when they first committed this crime.

The most common motivation for rape is sexual entitlement, a belief that men have a right to sex with women regardless of consent. Of those who acknowledged forcing a woman to have sex, more than 70 per cent of men said it was because of “sexual entitlement”. In rural Bangladesh and China, this figure rises to over 80 per cent of men.

Overall, 4 per cent of respondents said they had perpetrated gang rape against a woman or girl, the figures ranging from 1 to 14 per cent across the various sites.

“Given the early age of violence perpetration we found among some men, we need to start working with younger boys and girls than we have in the past. We also need laws and policies that clearly express that violence against women is never acceptable,” says Emma Fulu, a research specialist for Partners for Prevention.

Partners for Prevention believes the study reaffirms that violence against women is preventable. “Prevention is crucial because of the high prevalence of men’s use of violence found across the study sites, and it is achievable because the majority of the factors associated with men’s use of violence can be changed,” says James Lang, programme coordinator with Partners for Prevention.

Sexual violence in Asia: an issue of inequality

Violence against women is an expression of women’s subordination and inequality in the private and public spheres.

In Bangladesh and Cambodia men who had highly controlling behaviour were more than twice as likely to perpetrate partner violence.

Men who had perpetrated violence against a female partner were more likely to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as a child, or witnessed the abuse of their mother.

In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, men who reported having sex with a sex worker or having transactional sex were twice as likely to use violence against a partner than those who had not.

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