Rape: The Continuing Quest for a Gender Neutral World

Abstract - While many words have one or two definitions, the term 'rape' will vary in some of its meanings depending on what words it is with or even in what state, country, or culture the word is then defined- almost all languages have a word for 'rape'. The most basic definition of the term can be stated as follows: “the act of non-consensual sexual penetration of the body using physical force or the threat of bodily harm.” While this definition is gender neutral- the commission of rape is not and the unfortunate victims of this crime are overwhelmingly female. Rape is not a problem that is limited to certain cultures or even certain situations and environments. Truly, rape is a global endemic problem that must be dealt with before any human being can hope to live in a less violent, unequal world. This paper has a few key aims and will discuss what rape is and its consequences for men, women, children, culture and society. It will also discuss why rape is a common practice, what can be done to try and change the risks and acceptance of rape, and will then juxtapose two countries (Nigeria and the United States- one “developing” and one “developed”) to compare statistics, culture, education and resources. This paper will then end with suggestions for change to start to minimize the incidence of rape.

The most basic definition of rape is “the act of non-consensual sexual penetration of the body using physical force or the threat of bodily harm.” To further explain rape and some of the environments that facilitate its use as a tool against another person, those individuals adept at defining this act will use terms such as 'date rape', 'marital rape', 'stranger rape', 'acquaintance rape' or even 'opportunistic rape', 'genocidal rape', 'political rape', 'incest', and 'forced concubinage'. Each of these terms above describe the same act of rape as defined in the basic definition listed above, but also give the respondent more information about the perpetrator and/or environment of the rape. The definition of these terms are listed below.

1. date rape – a rape that occurs in the context of a planned or spontaneous date.

2. marital rape – also known as 'wife rape': a rape that occurs in the context of a marital and sexual relationship.

3. stranger rape – a rape in which the assailant is a stranger to the victim.

4. acquaintance rape – a rape by an assailant the victim knows or is related to, but is not dating.

5. statutory rape – is sexual intercourse with individuals under the age of consent or individuals that are unable to consent such as physically and mentally incapacitated persons.

6. opportunistic rape – a rape that is facilitated by taking immediate advantage of any circumstance for your benefit to the detriment of others, such as “when combatants of the police or soldiers run amok and resort to rape in areas of intermittent civil disobedience.” The term 'war rape' would fit in this category. Opportunistic rape takes place when combatants run amok, assured of impunity in a lawless context.

7. genocidal rape – a rape where the goal of the aggressors is to destroy or inflict harm on the victim's group calculated to bring about the group's destruction. In genocide, the identity of the perpetrator is essential. The woman (and by extension, her group) must know not simply that the atrocity occurred, but who was responsible for it. Genocidal rape seeks to destroy an ethnic or political group perceived as being the enemy.

8. political rape – an act of rape that is used to change power structure and politics. Victims of political rape tend to be close family members of political participants, female party volunteers or supporters. It is a tool used by the perpetrators to hurt men (in areas of the world where women are seen as property) and to force change to the goals and interests of political groups – this tends to cause a politically violent environment. Political rape punishes individuals, families, or communities who hold different political views.

9. incest - The rape or consensual sexual act taking place between a male and female who are so closely linked by blood or affinity that such activity is prohibited by law and/or tradition. Some groups of people that would fit into this category include parent and child, brother and sister, uncle and niece, or aunt and nephew, and first cousins. Also, sexual relations are also frequently prohibited among individuals who are related by half-blood, including brothers and sisters and uncles and nieces of the half-blood. The term incest can include individuals that are old enough to provide consent, but is also used to describe the relationship and rape of a family member that is unable to consent due to age or does not consent but is forced by physical force or threat of harm.

10. forced concubinage - Forced concubinage involves the conscription or kidnapping of young girls to wash, cook, porter and have sex with soldiers and militiamen. This is a form of sexual enslavement not be confused with the historical usage of voluntarily illicit sexual relations between a man and women that could be financially or politically supportive to the female and/or her family.

These definitions are all very clear, but can be reworded, gender specific or treated as non-existent depending on where in the world you are. While developed countries are more likely to see rape is a crime and punish the offenders, many developed countries (and states within the United States) see some forms of rape as “less serious” than others. For example, only twenty US states have laws with no exceptions for marital rape. Developing countries may have few laws against rape and those that do may not have the political will or resources to punish rape offenders. Also, countries may have many definitions of rape that can be utilized by the powers that be that include federal, state, Sharia, and customary law- and which can lead to arbitrary decisions depending of the person who defines the crime and their perception of the seriousness of the crime. International law also has its own definitions of what “rape” actually entails. The Rome Statute defines rape in Article 7(1)(g) of the Elements of Crimes from 1998 states:

1. “The perpetrator invaded the body of a person by conduct resulting in penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the victim or of the perpetrator with a sexual organ, or of the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or any other part of the body.

2. The invasion was committed by force, or by threat of force or coercion, such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power, against such person or another person, or by taking advantage of a coercive environment, or the invasion was committed against a person incapable of giving genuine consent."

Most international courts agree that rape is a human rights violation, torture, and can be a war crime.

No matter the definition of the rape, all people can agree with few exceptions that many types of rape behavior are rape and are unacceptable as such... whether they fit the exact definition or not. Rape is a crime that has been shown and well documented to cause many personal and societal difficulties. Victims of sexual assault can suffer severe physical pain and/or psychological pain and suffering. These can include reproductive consequences such as death, unwanted pregnancies, complications in childbirth, sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS. Emotional mental concerns that stem from sexual assault can be insomnia, low self esteem, feelings of guilt and of being ashamed, depression, substance abuse, social isolation and communication and trust difficulties. Societal difficulties can include lost work time and education, more utilization of medical benefits and unplanned pregnancies, higher rates of disability and/or trauma, and other social problems. Women in certain countries and cultures have the added burden that being raped can lead to their murder, forced suicide or marriage, and social disgrace for their entire family. If the woman becomes pregnant, she may not only find she has many of the formerly mentioned problems, but now has the added burden of attempting to find an abortion provider if that is her choice. In some countries where abortion is legal, there may be less difficulty in finding a provider, but in many countries in the developing world unsafe abortions can constitute a serious public health-care problem and can often end in reproductive complications and death.

Rape is an act that is both personal and social. While rape can be performed and forced onto either gender, it is a crime that is predominately forced onto the female gender. Rape also doesn't discriminate by age either... and a three year old child or a 90 year old woman are both at risk for rape. The most common rape victims are females between 15 and 21 years of age and in the Unites States, 83% of rape cases that are reported show the victims as 24 years old or younger. Accurate statistics on the number of rapes per country is difficult to obtain for a few reasons: the social stigma of being raped discourages women from reporting the sexual assault and discrimination by the law, police and rape services can penalize the victim as well as cause more psychological damage to her. This is an act that harms women... and in turn their families and children, communities, and society as a whole.

So all of these statements beg the question of why rape at all? Why is rape tolerated and accepted in all parts of the world... or at the minimum ignored? If women make up half of the world's population, why do they carry the brunt of sexual assault, violence and rape (as well as do two-thirds of the work)? What are the benefits to a society that does not punish its offenders? The answers are not easy to define... or even decide which causal event is the most important. The answers seem to lie in culture and tradition, education (or lack thereof), fear, misogyny by both genders and political/system/governmental failure.

Culture and Patriarchal tradition have been in place and followed in many countries for hundreds of years. So while several societies in many ways have grown to value women bring to a society and have worked to give women many basic human rights (they are no longer considered male property in all countries for instance), violence against women in all countries can start before birth. Female fetuses are aborted by some because of their gender as some cultures prefer male children. Some cultures require female circumcision, a practice that can leave women maimed, traumatized and reproductively impaired- sometimes death to the women and if not, her future children are also at risk. Some cultures also promote early marriage which forces female children into marriage before they are mature enough physically, emotionally or mentally. And women in all countries are at a higher risk for domestic violence and sexual assault as they grow older. As males and females are born and grow in their cultures, many women find that their culture contains customs that are harmful to their well being. Males can grow up believing that women have a lower status or are inferior than men. They can also grow up hearing messages that males are 'superior', they 'own' women and women's bodies, and men are 'entitled' to or have a 'right' to sex. These messages help teach both men and women that women do not deserve equal treatment which in turn promotes gender-based violence and inequality. Some traditions require that females who have been violated must be killed to allow the family to retain their 'stolen' honor. Others require suicide on the part of the female and in still others, raped women may be chased out of their families to try and find their way in the world alone without the family's protection. And in some cultures, women become partners with perpetrators, luring women to be raped and physically harmed in the hopes that they will not be raped or harmed themselves- they become part of the problem, not the solution. Some cultures and societies teach misogyny so well that women themselves can become the major abusers of women, although men are more likely to rape. Women in these cultures can come to believe that there are 'bad' and inferior' and they deserve the abuse and poor treatment they receive from men and women alike.

Education is an essential element of gender violence and rape. There appears to be a correlation between education and rape in some studies and surveys. In one study published in 2003, Lochner and Moretti showed that just getting men to graduate from high school reduced their chances of participation in most criminal behavior including murder, but slightly increased their chances of rape. It was not clear if that was because as women became more educated, they were also more likely to report the crime. Other groups have found other factors that contribute to the high incidence of rape which were: parent absenteeism, childhood trauma, bullying and deeply embedded misogyny. Other risk factors can be alcohol and substance use. A lack of education has shown a higher incidence of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS for both men and women which causes problems for both genders with physical and reproductive health which can include death. Possibly due to rape as well as prostitution and illicit sex, HIV infections are higher in many areas for women where rape is more chaotic and prevalent. Barroso mentions that many women actually contract HIV after they are married in Africa where they are more likely to marry not from choice and are at risk for violence and exploitation. She also states “Women and girls bear a disproportionate and increasing share of the suffering caused by the (AIDS) epidemic. Migration, inter-generational sex between young females and older men, coerced sexual relations including rape, lack of economic opportunities, low education levels, and cultural attitudes all contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.” Education for women helps dispel unnecessary fear from myths and allows women to make more choices that benefit them in their present... maybe helping them to have a safer future. Kristof and WuDunn interviewed Mahdere Paulos, a woman who runs the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. She states “Empowering women begins with eduction.”

Legal tradition in patriarchal societies has always favored the male gender and therefore most rapists as well. Amnesty International points out that current legislation in some areas of the world may actually penalize the rape victim and not the perpetrator. A coordinator for a gender activist group, Nhlanhla Mokoena said that the “law is on the side of perpetrators [of rape], rather than of the side of [rape] survivors." In some areas of the world, rape is used by the police and government as an interrogation technique to force confessions in the accused and even as a form of bail. How can rape survivors go to the police if they know there is a good chance that they will be re-victimized? Many countries including the US have instances where rapists were never charged or were offered plea deals for other forms of violence that allowed the offenders to escape punishment for the rape. Exceptions to rape law appear to be the 'rule', not exceptions in many cases. Even where laws are in place, if there is not the political will to prosecute offenders, there is no disincentive for rapists to stop their behavior. And some women have discovered that standing up for themselves and telling people of the violence and rape not only causes problems from the original perpetrators. Some victims may get pressure to remain quiet from many levels of government- sometimes up to the president of dictator themselves.

So how do many countries rate when it comes to protecting women? This is an impossible answer to be definitive about. Many countries do not keep rape statistics or other numbers that would help paint a picture of the true numbers of gender-based crime and rape. The countries that do collect statistics are aware that their numbers may be artificially low due to under-reporting, crime downgrading by police agencies, and ignorance by victims and medical agencies. While some forms of rape seem to be more common in 'developing nations' such as Nigeria, 'developed' nations such as the United States have their own forms of rape and the numbers for both countries on rape -where tabulated- are uncomfortably high.

Nigeria is a developing country in West Africa. It is the eighth most populous country in the world and the most populous country in which the majority of people are black. However, while Nigeria is a rising economic power, its records on human rights abuses- especially based on gender- is poor. Amnesty International has documented numerous instances of Nigerian police officers, both on and off duty, committing rape in many circumstances. It has also been documented that the Nigerian government does not punish perpetrators and doesn't offer rape victims any form of reparation. In 2002, a newspaper that frequently covers violence against women in Nigeria stated that they believe 4-6 girls and women are raped each day and the frequency of rape is increasing. They also reported that families are often intimidated and harassed into dropping criminal charges. In an editorial in September 2010, PMNews wrote: “Daily, newspapers and magazines are replete with horrible tales of rape. No gender is left out but the regular victims include female teenagers, housewives, female children and even female toddlers, not forgetting young boys who are sodomized for fetish reasons and sometimes for pleasure.... Punishment for rape is too lenient in Nigeria... According the the Child Rights Law in Nigeria (31(2) enacted by the federal government in May 2003, anyone convicted for rape is liable to life imprisonment. But nobody seems to be enforcing the law. Thus women and girls continue to be raped and molested.” Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi & Biola Akiyode Afolabi, in December 2004 wrote about rape and Nigerian courts. They state: “The manner in which rape trials are conducted and the nature of evidence required exposes the woman victim to indignity, making it a man’s trial, but a woman’s tribulation. In our criminal justice system, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution and guilt must be established beyond reasonable doubt. However in practice the victim is required to prove that she did not consent to rape. Quite often, medical evidence will show that the victim was raped but failure to provide ‘corroboration” will jeopardize the prosecution’s case. The requirement of penetration to prove rape cases which though is not part of the definition of rape but has been used over the years in decided cases has also denied women victims of rape the deserved justice from the law courts. It has been suggested that the law needs to be redefined and the Evidence Act amended.” Sokari states,”In Nigeria 20-40% of young girls are forced into marriage and the majority of those take place amongst Northern Muslims under Sharia Law.” The penal code in Nigeria also helps to condone child rape because sexual intercourse with a child is legal if you are married to her and she has obtained puberty- menstrual period is the usually used indicator. So the crime of child rape can easily be dismissed if the 'child' can be proved to have had a menstrual cycle... and becomes a rape against an adult which is under-prosecuted, under-reported, and easily dismissed if the family forces the child to marry her rapist. A survey done in Nigeria reported that 17% of Nigerian women said that they had endured rape or attempted rape by the time they had turned nineteen.

The United States is a developed country in North America. It is the third largest and populous country in the world and is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations. The United States is the largest national economy. It has many legally protected human rights and took a leading role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948. However, the United States has been criticized over the last several years for human rights violations and for actively attempting to undermine the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The United States does try and keep fairly good records and documentation of rape statistics so as a society we can have a better picture of the actual numbers of victims. However, it must be pointed out again that rape is an under-reported crime so the numbers do not necessarily reflect the actual number of rapes in the country. It is estimated that one out of every three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and that the United States has the world's highest rape rate globally of the countries that actually collect and publish the data. According to 'Cease', in the United States, 1.3 women are raped every minute. That results in 78 rapes each hour, 1872 rapes each day, 56160 rapes each month and 683,280 rapes each year. It is also thought that only 16% of all rapes are ever reported to the police. According to the Justice Department, about 81% of rape victims are white, 18% are black, and 1% are of other races. It can also be shown that rape on college campuses is rarely punished by the state or the college in question – or the punishment doesn't really 'fit the crime'. Some groups are even starting to try and track evidence of 'serial rapists' on college campuses and how a rapist can become a serial rapist... because the offender rarely has serious consequences and rarely gets caught.

From looking at the statistics and the information given by NGO's, I few similarities and differences appear to me when placing the data about Nigeria and the Unites States side by side. First, both countries have large statistics of rape although some forms of rape look like they are more common in Nigeria and some may be more common in the United States. Both countries really need to look at ways of reducing the incidence of rape. While in many cases the United States does prosecute more offenders of rape, as a society, women are still discriminated against and considered inferior. On 11/17/20, the United States Senate wasn't able to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so American women will continue to still be paid less for their work- even when they are doing the same work as a male counterpart. So while the United States should take pride in its attempts to help women and work toward gender equality, failure to pass laws that require gender neutrality keep a society unequal and the individuals that 'appear' to be inferior will be more likely to have to deal with violence and rape. Rape is common in both the 'developed' and the 'developing' world. Both countries have exceptions to rape laws that allow some forms of rape to go mostly unpunished. Both countries have areas of entitlement when it comes to rape- an area or circumstance that makes the offender very likely to get away with the crime and to cause more injury to the victim. Both countries show some tolerance for rape, although it appears that Nigeria, due to a more sexist culture, has more tolerance for rape and its perpetrators. The United States has hundreds of resources for rape education and for the victims of rape and with legal human right's laws, women have a better chance of getting help after the rape than the victims in Nigeria... and that their rapists will be prosecuted. It appears that except for NGO's, Nigeria has few resources that rape victims can use to help or protect themselves.

The answers to reduce the risk for rape are easy to say, but far harder to accomplish. In the United States, sex education and self defense classes help teach women how to defend themselves from attack. Education in families and communities that enlightens men to the risk towards women and help teach both males and females when they are young about gender equality help make the smallest baby steps towards change. Even small forms of education can make a big difference. Talking about the common rape myths (women encourage rape, men can't control themselves, etc...) and why they are incorrect can help individuals to really look at their thoughts on gender, equality, and rape. Rape-Awareness workshops can also help people learn about rape and its concerns- in one survey from a workshop, both college men and women were asked separately what steps each of them takes each day to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted or raped. The forms were then passed around and this exercise showed that men do not do anything to protect themselves from rape that is out of the ordinary, but women do many things. This exercise helps to educate men to be aware of the extra steps women need to take to protect themselves and when questioned after the exercise, most of the men said that they had not been aware of the steps that women routinely take to avoid sexual assault. Some groups, such as Mentors in Violence Prevention, do visualization exercises where all male groups are given a pretend scenario where a women they care about is being raped with a bystander nearby. They are then asked to try and imagine how the women felt and how they felt about the bystander who did nothing. The scenarios are then changed as some of the men talk turns being the bystander themselves, changing their viewpoint of the situation. Men play a very important part in rape prevention by helping to reduce the occurrence of rape, helping to change situations where rape might occur or stopping a rape in progress, and helping to change the attitudes of other males that may lead to rape. A MS magazine study of 7000 students at 35 universities over a three year period show that “one in twelve men admitted to having fulfilled the prevailing definition or rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of those men considered themselves rapists”. This study suggests that men need education on rape awareness because you must understand it, to try and stop it. Also, culture change must happen so that as a culture, we stop looking for excuses for the victim to have some responsibility for her assault. Amy Nicholson in a blog post states “A woman’s body is not a security risk. A woman’s body is not an unsecured fire, a wallet peeking out of a back pocket. A woman who wants to go to the toilet unaccompanied is not an invitation to a violent criminal, and the longer it is treated as such the more regularly attacks like this will be blamed on the victim.... Make the perpetrator, not the victim, the focus of your response. Placing more emphasis on the offender and not on blaming the victim is one of the thought processes that needs to be changed to make rape a more rare occurrence.

Rape is a crime that harms more than the victim. It causes harm to the perpetrator, the families of both and the surrounding communities. Sexual violence is not a solution to many problems and causes many problems that can take decades if ever to fix. Mohamoud Fathalla once stated: “Women are not dying because we cannot treat them. They are dying because societies are yet to make decision that their lives are worth saving.” It is the same with rape.

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