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Asia has a rape problem – survey reveals surprising causes and ways to prevent it

Men who admit rape

Nearly one in four men surveyed in six Asian countries admit to having raped a woman, find UN-backed researchers. The good news is that the data provides a road map to preventing future rapes.

The research was conducted in coordination with the UN-backed Partners for Prevention program. Established in 2008, Partners for Prevention aims to prevent gender-based violence in Asia and the Pacific. Interviews took place in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea.

Reasons cited range from sexual entitlement to entertainment to punishment, say researchers in a paper published in British health journal The Lancet. Alcohol was surprisingly low on list of motivations, said report author Dr Emma Fulu.

“We hope to see this new knowledge used for more informed programs and policies to end violence against women,” said Fulu.

Men between the ages of 18 and 49 years old were interviewed by fellow men. Rape was not explicitly discussed, rather it was brought up through questions asking if they “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it.”

Between 6% and 8% surveyed said that they forced a non-partner to have sex with them. Of that group, more than half said they committed their first rape as a teen.

Papua New Guinea saw higher rates of rape as compared to the other countries. It topped the list on non-partner rapes, partner rapes, rape of men and gang rapes. The authors suggest that it may be connected to previous conflict and higher violence rates.

The high prevalence of rape in Bougainville (Papua New Guinea) and Jayapura (Indonesia) could be related to previous conflict in these settings, but this link is unclear. In Papua New Guinea, many forms of violence are highly prevalent, including non-partner rape in non-conflict-affected areas, general interpersonal violence, and sorcery-related violence.

Though attention is paid to the startling numbers of rape, there is hope that lessons can be learned to prevent the continuation of sexual violence.

“This study reaffirms that violence against women is preventable, not inevitable” says James Lang, Program Coordinator, Partners for Prevention. “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.”

Sexual Violence Asia

One area of prevention is sexual and emotional abuse during childhood. The researchers suggest that there are points of connection between early abuse and later committing abuse. Cutting off abuse of children could reduce rape down the line.

“To protect boys from abuse is crucial for the long-term prevention of violence against women and girls,” they write. “Being raped or coerced into sex when older was associated only with rape of men and rape of a non-partner woman in three countries, but not in the regional analysis overall.”

However it is hard to generalize the how the results can be applied throughout the region or even within the countries surveyed. The authors warn that the locality of the surveys may mean that the data represents a single area in a given country, not the country as a whole.

“The combined analysis findings do not represent the whole Asia and Pacific region because we included only some countries, and few sites, and the sample sizes varied between countries,” they warn.

What it does is provide further hard data on a problem in some parts of Asia. By illustrating the ability to prevent sexual abuse by eliminating child abuse, the authors provide a guideline that can have positive benefits even in places where there are lower levels of rape.

“We also need laws and policies that clearly express that violence against women is never acceptable, as well as policies and programs to protect children and end the cycles of violence that extend across many people’s lives,” says Fulu.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]