When a woman recently alleged that she had been raped by an MP, the Daily Nation published a front page article on the same.
As expected, the story received a lot of reaction, some of it in the vein of “what was she doing alone with the MP at night?”
On the newspaper’s 'Have Your Say' column the same week, a woman wrote about how she was accused of having “allowed” her primary school teacher to defile her. She was made to feel that it was her fault and was shunned for having being defiled, she wrote.
Blaming the victim for sexual abuse is a common occurrence, a worldwide phenomenon that is not restricted to Kenya.
This is best illustrated by the United Kingdom’s “Rotherham Scandal” of 2014 which revealed that a total of 1,400 girls, some as young as 11 years, were sexually abused between 1997 and 2013.
When the girls reported the abuse, they were not believed; one of them told the BBC that “the police said I was asking for it and that I didn’t do myself any favours by hanging around with these men”.
But, why is it that girls and women are not only not believed, but also blamed for a rape attack? To answer this question, researchers Madeleine van der Bruggen and Amy Grubb studied published research work from 2007 to investigate what attributes of victims and observers led people to blame the victim of rape.
Their review, published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour in 2014, found plenty of similarities to the reasons why women are blamed for rape.
Women who appear, from injuries to their body, to have vigorously resisted the attacker are blamed less those who did not resist the aggression.
Researchers have observed that the better the victim and perpetrator know each other, and the closer the relationship, the more blame is typically assigned to her.
Women of good reputation, or who have professional jobs, are blamed less than those who are not considered of good repute. The way a woman was dressed at the time of the attack also comes into play in the blame game. Also, women who are considered too trusting or careless — for “being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person” — are also blamed for the rape.
Those who had taken alcohol before the rape hardly stand a chance when they accuse someone of rape.
However, when it comes to alcohol, there is a double standard. Male perpetrators of rape often use alcohol intoxication as an excuse for their behaviour and are judged more leniently on this basis, whereas women are afforded the opposite response and judged more harshly.
Men are socialised to initiate sex and a woman to be passive. “Good girls do not ask for it”, and so men — cultured to be sexually aggressive — view rape as an extension of the traditional role of men and women.
As a result, people with a more traditional view of gender stereotypes are more likely to blame the victim.
Belief in rape myths also leads to victim blaming. The concept of rape mythology was introduced in the 1970s by the feminist movement.
Rape myths are beliefs that people hold about a “typical rape”, which paints a particular picture of how a victim and a perpetrator behave.
Rape myths are defined as beliefs about sexual aggression, which justify sexual aggressive behaviour. They encompass a range of beliefs that are expressed in three ways: that women always lie about being raped; that they enjoy being raped; and that they are responsible for the rape.
Rape myths also suggest that rape is deviant behaviour of a particular type of person. Phrases that come into play in such myths are; “she asked for it”, “it wasn’t really rape”, “he didn’t mean it”, “she wanted it”, “she liked it”, “rape is a trivial event”, and “rape is a deviant event”.
Women are “asking for it” if they wear certain clothes or are in certain places at certain times, and men who rape “have no control” over their sexual desires and should not be judged too harshly for it, some people say.
Rape myths are universal.
Health pyschologist Hannah McGee conducted a study in Ireland, published in 2011, to investigate the concept.
He interviewed 3,120 members of the public to learn about rape myths and found that 40 per cent believed that rape was a result of overwhelming sexual desire. About 30 per cent agreed that a woman wearing tight tops or short skirts was inviting rape.
The sad thing is that rape myths have a high influence on whether perpetrators are jailed or not.
A paper published in the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice in 2014 showed that rape myths played a big part in convictions of perpetrators in the UK and US.
People expect a woman who has been raped to behave in a certain way, they expect the victim to fight back against the attacker and sustain serious physical injuries in the process. They also expect victims to report the attack immediately and to appear tearful and distressed when doing the reporting.
However, often women are so traumatised after rape that they do not rush to the police station, requiring someone sympathetic to accompany them to the police and hospital. Many victims are also afraid for their lives during an attack and may not fight back.
A World Health Organisation multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women, published in 2005, gives as an idea of the amount of sexual violence that women experience. A total of 24,000 women across the world were interviewed in the survey, and the results showed a wide range in the frequency of sexual violence directed at women — between one in 20 women and one out of every two have been sexually abused. There is no country, no culture that does not experience a problem with rape, yet it is the most under-reported crime globally. Across the world, women do not report the crime because they fear the degradation that comes with the reporting, the fear that they will not be believed, and that the perpetrator will walk free
About 35 per cent of women worldwide — more than one in three — have experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 has been forced to have sex. Also, according to Equality Now, an advocacy group that tracks laws pertaining to women, 125 countries specifically criminalise domestic violence. But so-called wife-obedience laws still remain in some places. In some others, rapists can get off the hook by marrying those they assault.
Estimated number of women raped in the UK every day. It is difficult to know what the true rate of rape is in Kenya as reporting is very low, so we can only guess it by looking at data from a country with better systems of data collection (the UK in this case). According to an article in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour, during the period 2008/9,there were 12,165 reports of serious sexual assault reported to the police in the UK. However, the British crime survey indicated that only 12 per cent of women who are raped in Britian report to the police. To put this differently, out of every eight women who are raped in Britain, only one will report to the police. If slightly over 12,000 reports are made, the authors estimate that about 100,000 women are raped in Britain each year, a rate of 270 rapes a day.
THEORIES OF RAPE
Why men tend to side with the perpetrator
Here, some of the theories that have been used to explain why woman are blamed for getting raped:
Just World Theory: States that people perceive the world to be a fair place where individuals deserve what they get and get what they deserve.
Such people do not want to believe that unfortunate things happen to people for no apparent reason as this would make the world chaotic.
Believing that the victim somehow deserved what he or she got creates a sense of control, a comfortable view that the world is ordered, fair and just.
Defensive Attribution Hypothesis: States that if you can identify with the victim, if you feel similar to them, then you are less likely to blame them for the rape.
If you can imagine something similar happening to you, then you would not want to be blamed and are therefore less likely to blame the victim. If you cannot identify with him or her, then you are more likely to blame him or her for the attack.
This is also thought to be the reason men are more likely to blame victims of rape than women.
Women identify with the victim and men with the perpetrator. Men can be more accepting of the rape situation and tend to minimise the seriousness of rape scenarios.
Across the world, researchers have found that men will side more with the perpetrator than the victim when compared to women.
UN alarmed by levels of violence against women
Since the Beijing conference 20 years ago the share of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled, though women still account for only one in five legislators. All but 32 countries have adopted laws that guarantee gender equality in their constitutions. But violence against women — including rape, murder and sexual harassment — remains stubbornly high in countries rich and poor, at war and at peace. The United Nations’ main health agency, the World Health Organisation, reports that 38 per cent of women who are murdered are killed by their partners.
The evidence is ubiquitous. The gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi sets off an unusual burst of national outrage in India. American colleges face mounting scrutiny about campus rape. In South Sudan, women are assaulted by both sides in the civil war. In Iraq, jihadis enslave women for sex.
Despite the many gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against them worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a UN analysis earlier this year.
About 35 per cent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both, the report found. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex.
Since the Beijing conference 20 years ago, there has been measurable, though mixed, progress on many fronts, according to the UN analysis. As many girls as boys are now enrolled in primary school, a sharp advance since 1995. Maternal mortality rates have fallen by half and women are more likely to be in the labour force, though the pay gap is closing so slowly that it will take another 75 years before women and men are paid equally for equal work.
The share of women serving in legislatures has nearly doubled, too, though women still account for only one in five legislators. All but 32 countries have adopted laws that guarantee gender equality in their constitutions.
But violence against women — including rape, murder and sexual harassment — remains stubbornly high in countries rich and poor, at war and at peace. The United Nations’ main health agency, the World Health Organisation, found that 38 per cent of women who are murdered are killed by their partners.
Even as women’s groups continue to push for laws that criminalise violence — marital rape is still permitted in many countries — new types of attacks have emerged, some of them online, including rape threats on Twitter.
Where there are laws on the books, like ones that criminalise domestic violence, for instance, they are not reliably enforced.
“Overall, as you look at the world, there have been no large victories in eradicating violence against women,” said Valerie M Hudson, a professor of politics at Texas A&M University who has developed world maps that chart the status of women. The vast majority of countries, by her metrics, do not have laws that protect women’s physical safety.
In some cases, the laws on the books are the problem, women’s rights advocates say. In some countries, like Nigeria, the law permits a man to beat his wife under certain circumstances. But even when laws are technically adequate, victims often do not feel comfortable going to law enforcement, or they are unable to pay the bribes required to file a police report.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of the UN agency for gender equity and women’s empowerment — known as UN Women — said that for the laws to mean anything, governments around the world have to persuade their police officers, judges and medical personnel to take violence against women seriously.
“I am disappointed, I have to be honest,” she said about the stubborn hold of violence against women. “More than asking for more laws to be passed, I’m asking for implementation.”
According to Equality Now, an advocacy group that tracks laws pertaining to women, 125 countries specifically criminalise domestic violence. But so-called wife-obedience laws still remain in some places. In some others, rapists can get off the hook by marrying those they assault.
Violence against women is often unreported. For instance, a study conducted in the 28 countries of the European Union found that only 14 per cent of women reported their most serious episode of domestic violence to the police.
“Violence against women has epidemic proportions, and is present in every single country around the world,” said Lydia Alpizar, executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, a global feminist group. “Yet it is still not a real priority for most governments.”
Perhaps the biggest change in 20 years, say those who attended the 1995 Beijing conference, is that the subject is now front and centre in public discussion. “There is actually a great deal more attention being paid today to violence against women,” said Charlotte Bunch, a feminist scholar who attended the Beijing conference. “The truth is, it’s a complex issue that isn’t solved easily.” (NYT)