Almost one in four men surveyed in six Asian countries admit to having raped their partners at least once, according to a UN report. Researcher Emma Fulu explains the factors that prompt men to accept and commit rape.
Based on anonymous interviews with more than 10,000 men aged between the ages of 18 and 49 in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea, the study found that about one in ten men had raped a woman who was not his partner. When their wife or girlfriend was included, that figure increased to nearly a quarter.
The study is the first of its scale in the region and was released on the same day (September 10) that a court in India found four men guilty of gang-raping and murdering a student on a bus last December. The death of the 23-year-old triggered weeks of protests across the country, prompting Indian lawmakers to draft stricter laws on sexual violence. However, researcher Emma Fulu explains in a DW interview that criminal justice responses alone are not enough due to the high prevalence of violence against women.
DW: In your opinion, how big a problem is the issue of rape in Asia?
Emma Fulu: Rape is a cross-cutting, global issue. It is a concern in Asia and around the world. The study shows that nearly a quarter of men interviewed reported perpetrating rape against a woman or girl, ranging from 10 percent to 62 percent across the sites.
While the study findings confirm that rape is a serious problem, the rates of violence also show us that there are many men who do not use violence. Many men in Asia, and elsewhere in the world, value peace and equality, and we must promote those men as the norm.
What factors have contributed to this development?
The study discovers that there are many different factors that influence men's use of violence against women. These include inequality between men and women, accepted ways of being a man that condone violence, and men's own experiences of violence, especially as children.
Fulu: 'We need to start working with younger boys and providing them more positive models of how to be a man'
Overall, the study finds evidence from men themselves who reveal how those who use violence against women are more likely to have gender-inequitable attitudes, have experienced or witnessed abuse, and indulge in practices that celebrate toughness, male sexual performance, and dominance over women.
How reliable and representative are the report's findings?
We believe that the results of this study are reliable and accurately represent the prevalence of rape in the places where the study was conducted. The survey employed internationally recognized standards for research on violence against women, which are designed to ensure the most accurate results possible.
For example, men were not asked broad questions about "violence" or "rape," but rather were asked about specific acts and types of behaviours. In addition, the study also made use of innovative technology to enhance the accuracy of the data. Finally, the reports from men are also validated by research conducted with women on women's reports of victimization.
Why were participants from these specific countries selected for the survey?
The research sites were selected to reflect the diversity of the Asia-Pacific region. We included sites from South Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, including two post-conflict sites. In general, we selected countries where little research had been conducted.
To ensure a randomized sample, the study sites were divided into different areas and households, and then within these groupings, men were randomly selected to participate in the interview. This means that in each site, every single man had an equal likelihood of being selected to be interviewed as part of this study.
What message does the report send out?
The key message of the report is that violence is preventable. The study underscores the importance of prioritizing prevention, alongside response, to comprehensively and effectively address violence against women. This means addressing the root causes of violence to stop it before it happens. The study shows that this includes addressing gender inequality, promoting non-violent ways and ending child abuse.
Given the early age of violence perpetration among some men, we need to start working with younger boys and providing them more positive models of how to be a man. Stronger efforts to prevent violence against women is a core recommendation because the high prevalence of violence perpetration means that criminal justice responses alone are not enough, and the findings indicate that the majority of the factors associated with men's perpetration of violence can be changed. The study provides new evidence from men themselves on what needs to change and the specific entry points for these changes.
Researchers have concluded that rape of an intimate partner was more common than was non-partner rape in all the countries surveyed. How do you interpret these findings?
This is an important finding, as it points to the need to criminalize marital rape. In many countries across Asia and the Pacific, marital rape is still not considered a crime. However, at the same time, the majority of men who admitted to perpetrating rape had experienced no legal consequences.
This is likely due to men’s impunity and lack of strong legal frameworks.So changing legal frameworks cannot be the only action we take to stop violence against women. We must also work to change beliefs around men's right to women's bodies regardless of consent and promote healthy, non-violent sexualities.
Why do so many rape cases in Asia go unreported?
Global evidence from research on violence against women shows that there is widespread shame and stigma associated with victimization of rape, and this means that women who experience rape are often unwilling to make this information public. For women who do report victimization of rape, services and legal systems are often not well set up - if they exist at all.
This means that women might not receive the necessary legal, health and psychosocial support that is required to effectively address an incident of rape, including prosecution of the perpetrator.
What do Asian countries need to do to tackle the issue of rape?
This is not just about Asian countries. Based on the study findings, we advocate the prioritization of prevention alongside response services, to decrease widespread rates of violence against women.
The study recommends we make violence against women unacceptable through community mobilization programmes and engagement with people who influence culture. Furthermore, we need to promote non-violent and caring ways to be a man, address child abuse and promote healthy families. We also need to ensure the full empowerment of women and girls and eliminate gender discrimination.
Emma Fulu is a research specialist at Partners for Prevention - a UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UNV Asia-Pacific regional joint program for gender-based violence prevention.
The interview was conducted by Gabriel Domínguez.