A Culture of Rape in Southeast Asia?

The four men accused of raping and torturing a young woman after luring her onto a bus in December 2012 were given the death penalty in New Delhi last Friday. However, a recent survey report – conducted by the United Nations in six countries across Southeast Asia and the Pacific – has uncovered some truly shocking figures in regards to rape. Almost a quarter of men, of which 10, 000 were interviewed, admitted to having raped a woman in their lifetime.

The survey interviewed men from China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papa New Guinea. The results were varied – although China and Cambodia ranked particularly high for rape. Most shockingly, a startling 62% of the men surveyed in Papa New Guinea admitted to having raped a woman. It was much less common in urban areas of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where roughly only one in ten of the surveyed men confessed to rape. In response to these findings, Professor Rachel Jewkes of South Africa’s Medical Research Council remarked “it [is] clear that violence against women is far more widespread in the general population than we thought”.

The survey also attempted to explore some of the reasons for why these men committed such atrocities – very often raping their own partners. Indeed, it should be noted that most reported cases of rape, the western world included, occur within intimate relationships and feminists have tirelessly attempted to shatter the common misconception of rape occurring in a dark alleyway with a stranger. According to the survey reports, an overwhelming 75% of the men said they felt “sexually entitled” to rape a woman. Others claimed it was for either entertainment to alleviate boredom (60%) or an act of punishment (40%). Perhaps surprisingly, alcohol consumption was the least common motivation.

In addition, the report seems to suggest that experiences of childhood violence can be an important factor in dictating future adult behavior and sexual relations. Jewkes notes that the area surveyed in Papa New Guinea has had a particularly troubled history of civil conflict and violence with an alleged 86% of the surveyed men reporting emotional or physical abuse during their childhoods. Emma Fulu, a research specialist for Partners for Prevention, claims that this indicate that more work needs to be done with younger boys from violent and potentially traumatic backgrounds.

Of course, the survey is by no means an accurate representation of the entirety of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Nevertheless, it is clear that many of the men in these countries harbor deeply sexist attitudes towards women. For more information on the survey’s findings: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS2214-109X(13)70074-3/abstract

Patrick Ireland