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U.N. Study Reveals Violence Extensive Against Women

While it has long been understood that women and children bear the brunt of violent acts around the world, a massive new U.N.-sponsored study finds that sexual violence against women may be more widespread than ever imagined.

The study was conducted across six Asian countries looking at the causes and prevalence of rape in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea. Part of that research was published this week in “The Lancet Global Health.”

The researchers stress that their findings are from just six countries and should not be used to make generalizations even about all of Asia. Yet the results are enlightening and may help us all better understand violence against women.

Some 10,000 men were questioned, although the word “rape” was never used. Instead, they were asked if they’d ever had sex with a woman against her will or with someone too drunk or drugged to agree (or perhaps disagree). Which, of course, is what rape is, yet too many people fail to understand that sex without consent is rape, and a girl passed out at a party cannot give her consent.

“Rape doesn’t just involve someone with a gun to a woman’s head,” Michele Decker, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-author of a commentary that accompanied the study, told CBS News.

Nearly 1 in 10 of the men in the study has raped a woman, but that figure jumps to 1 in 4 if you include wives and girlfriends among the victims. The results varied widely from region to region, with the highest numbers in Papua New Guinea and the lowest in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Why did these men force women to have sex with them? More than 70 percent cited “sexual entitlement” as the reason for rape. They simply believe they have the right to have sex with any women, whether she agrees or not. Nearly 60 percent said they had raped for entertainment because they were bored or seeking some “fun.” About 40 percent of men blamed punishment or anger for their sexual assaults on women. (The men could give more than one reason so the results don’t add up to 100 percent.)

Rape began early for many of these men; half of those who had raped were just teenagers the first time. Four percent of them had participated in a gang rape. Almost half of the men had used either physical or sexual violence against their wife or girlfriend.

Few of the men had faced punishment for their acts against women. Anywhere from 72 to 90 percent of the men questioned never suffered any legal consequences at all.

As expected, men who were violent toward women were more likely to have been the victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse themselves as children, or to have watched their mothers suffer abuse. Many also live in poverty or are poorly educated. It’s no excuse, but knowing these contributing factors can lead to change.

That’s the ultimate goal of the research: To figure out how to change behavior. Researchers wrote in a statement that accompanied the study, “The challenge now is to turn evidence into action, to create a safer future for the next generation of women and girls.”

It means changing cultural attitudes and beliefs, like that of a man from Bangladesh quoted in the report’s summary. “If I am angry, I prefer to teach her [his wife] an instant lesson,” he said. “If she disobeys, she must be punished. That is not wrong at all.”

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