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In the aftermath of a sexual assault, the focus of discussion is often centred on the victim of abuse. For years, academics and the media alike have been asking the same questions: where was the victim? Why was she there at the time? How was she dressed? Was she intoxicated?

The result is a tangled web of ‘what ifs’ that shrouds the hard truths. Rape prevention has effectively become an exercise in self-preservation, while barely any energy is devoted to understanding the minds and motivations of perpetrators.

But a new multi-country study has revealed some startling findings about rape and gender violence in the Asia Pacific region.

As part of a UN initiative that looks at what drives sexual violence, an international team of researchers surveyed more than 10, 000 men from six different countries to examine the prevalence of rape, violence against partners, and their reasons for committing these crimes.

Participants were chosen from both rural and urban areas of Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka and cover a range of age groups. 

The survey, published on Tuesday in The Lancet Global Health journal, found that more than one in ten men surveyed (11 percent) admitted to having raped a woman who was not their partner.

What’s more, the figure jumped to nearly one in four (or 25 percent) when non-consensual sex with a spouse or intimate partner was included. Just under half (45 percent) of the perpetrators said they had raped more than one woman.

"It's clear violence against women is far more widespread in the general population than we thought," study lead author Rachel Jewkes told The Independent.

The survey was carried out by trained male interviewers, and the word ‘rape’ was not used. Instead, respondents were asked questions like, “Have you ever forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex?”, or “Have you ever had sex with a woman who was too drugged or drunk to indicate whether she wanted it?”


Disturbingly, of those who admitted to rape, nearly 73 percent used “sexual entitlement” as justification – citing they believed they had a right to have sex, regardless of the woman’s consent. These respondents identified with statements like “I wanted her”, “I wanted to have sex”, or “I wanted to show I could do it”.

 Over half (59 percent) said they did it for entertainment (that they “wanted to have fun” or were “bored”), while a third (38 percent) said they used rape as a form of ‘punishment’ (“I was angry at her”).

Only 55 percent of men reported they felt guilty after the fact.

While the study is the largest of its kind, researchers note that the findings do not represent the whole Asia and Pacific region.

The study also highlighted that men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or have been sexually coerced themselves were more likely to have committed rape than those had never experienced sexual violence. 

According to the report, “A history of physical violence towards a partner, having paid for sex, or having had a large number of sexual partners were also associated with an increased likelihood of having committed rape against a non-partner.”

Professor Jewkes explains that the findings are especially significant because they bring to light the social risk factors for rape.  In other words, purely looking at individual cases of sexual violence and trying to weigh in on "how they could've been prevented" just isn’t enough.  

“We now need to move towards a culture of preventing the perpetration of rape from ever occurring, rather than relying on prevention through responses,” says Jewkes. 

 

See the full report from The Lancet Global Health here.