Gender-Based Violence

Rape

The definition of rape and its effects on victims have evolved historically alongside ideas about gender and sexuality.

Learning Objectives

Describe the influence of the feminist movement on public attitudes toward rape and the notion of consent

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Rape has serious psychological and physical consequences for the victim.
  • The definitions of rape and consent are culturally and historically contingent upon the particular sexual mores of a time. Recently, the definition or rape has been expanded to include any gender, and now contains stricter definitions of consent.
  • Victim blaming and self-blame are rooted in public beliefs that a victim is at least partially responsible for rape. Rape shield laws prohibit legal testimony regarding a victim’s sexual behavior, in order to prevent victims from being placed on trial along with defendants.
  • International law defines rape as a crime against humanity and a potentially genocidal act.
  • Rape shield laws prohibit legal testimony regarding a victim’s sexual behavior in order to prevent the victim from being placed on trial along with the defendant.

Key Terms

  • victim blaming: when the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held entirely or partially responsible for the transgressions committed against him or her (regardless of whether the victim actually had any responsibility for the incident)
  • date rape: non-consensual sexual activity between a victim and perpetrator that know one another
  • self-blame: when one holds oneself responsible for a negative experience

Rape is a type of sexual assault in which one or more individuals forces sexual contact on another individual without consent. Rape can cause devastating physical and psychological trauma. In the aftermath of an attack, many victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety disorder. Rape victims may also confront a number of emotions related to shame. Often, victims blame themselves for rape. Some victims come to believe they somehow deserved the assault, while others become preoccupied thinking about how the rape could have been avoided.

Although self-blame might seem like an unusual, intensely individual response to rape, it is rooted in social conceptions of rape and victimhood. In the case of rape, victim blaming generally refers to the belief that certain behaviors on the part of the victim, like flirting or wearing provocative clothing, encourage assault. Legal systems may perpetuate victim blaming. For example, in the United States, defendants are guaranteed an opportunity to explain their actions and motivations, which may allow them to instigate conversations about their victims’ sexual past or physical presentation. Lawyers and activists are aware of the negative consequences of this type of conversation in courtrooms, and many have encouraged state legislators to enact rape shield laws, which would prohibit testimony about a victim’s sexual behavior. Nevertheless, victims are often reluctant to report rape because of these social pressures.

Consent

The definition of rape rests on the notion of consent, which has changed over the course of history as sexual mores and understandings of gender have changed. For example, in medieval Europe, a woman could be legally married by her parents to a stranger without her consent and, once married, she could no longer refuse to consent to sex. The medieval concept of rape did not allow for the possibility of being raped by one’s husband. It was only in middle of the 16th century that European courts began to recognize a minimum age of consent, though this figure was typically set around six or seven years. In modern legal understanding, consent may be explicit or implied by context, but the absence of objection never itself constitutes consent, and consent can be withdrawn at any time. Consent cannot be forced and it cannot be given by certain categories of people considered incapable of consent (e.g., minors and the cognitively disabled).

Rape and Gender

Rape is often thought of as a crime committed by a man against a woman, but increasingly, social and legal definitions of rape recognize that this does not have to be the case. In 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation updated its definition of rape, which had originally been instituted in 1972, and which previously limited rape to a crime against women. This definition, considered outdated and overly narrow, was replaced by a new definition, which recognizes that rape can be perpetrated by a person of any gender against a victim of any gender. The new definition also broadens the instances in which a victim is unable to give consent. These instances now include temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, and incapacity caused by the use of drugs or alcohol.

The FBI’s new definition continues a trend that gained traction with the feminist movement of the 1970s, when rape was publicly characterized as a crime of power and control rather than a sexual act. Leaders of the feminist movement started some of the first rape crisis centers, which not only provided basic services to victims, but also advanced the idea of rape as a criminal act with a victim who was not to be blamed. Feminist leaders also encouraged the codification of marital rape, or forced sexual contact between spouses. Currently, the struggle continues with efforts to bring attention to date rape, which is embedded in the gendered expectation that women engage in sexual activity following a date with a man. Conversations about date rape work to undo this social expectation and to reinforce the idea that consensual sex requires the explicit permission of both partners.

International Law

International law is changing to recognize rape as a weapon of war. The Rome Statute included rape in its definition of a crime against humanity, a definition first put into practice in the mid-1990s by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This judicial body recognized that Serbian soldiers and policemen had systematically raped Muslim women during the Balkan War. In 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found that systematic rape was a crime against humanity. It also ruled that rape was an aspect of genocide, because of the use of rape to impregnate women in order to weaken or eliminate a particular gene pool.

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“Rape is a Real Crime, give Simmons Jail Time! “: Women at NOW-NYC’s Take Rape Seriously Rally protest against the inadequate sentence of Tony Simmons, a confessed rapist of three teenage girls.

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is any sexual act or sexual advance directed at one individual without their consent.

Learning Objectives

Explain why sexual violence is difficult to track

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An act is deemed sexually violent if the individual to whom the attention is directed does not consent to the sexual activity, if they are members of a class of persons who cannot consent (the severely cognitively impaired, etc.), or if consent is due to coercion or duress.
  • Sexual violence has a profound impact on physical and mental health.
  • Sexual violence is particularly difficult to track because it is severely under reported.

Key Terms

  • sexual assault: A physical attack of a sexual nature on another person or a sexual act committed without explicit consent.
  • coercion: Actual or threatened force for the purpose of compelling action by another person; the act of coercing.
  • sexual violence: Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.

Sexual violence is any sexual act or sexual advance directed at one individual without their consent. The most commonly discussed form of sexual violence is rape. Rape is a form of sexual assault involving one or more persons who force sexual penetration with another individual without that individual’s consent. Sexual violence is not limited to rape; it is a broad category that can include everything from verbal harassment to physical assault.

Forms of sexual violence include: rape by strangers, marital rape, date rape, war rape, unwanted sexual harassment, demanding sexual favors, sexual abuse of children, sexual abuse of disabled individuals, forced marriage, child marriage, denial of the right to use contraception, denial of the right to take measures to protect against sexually-transmitted diseases, forced abortion, genital mutilation, forced circumcision, and forced prostitution.

An act is deemed sexually violent if the individual to whom the attention is directed does not consent to the sexual activity, if they are members of a class of persons who cannot consent (the severely cognitively impaired, individuals who are inebriated, minors, etc.), or if consent is due to coercion or duress. Coercion can cover a whole spectrum of degrees of force. Apart from physical force, it may involve psychological intimidation, blackmail, or any other type of threat, like the threat of physical harm or of being dismissed from a job.

Sexual violence has a profound impact on physical and mental health. Sexual violence can cause severe physical injuries, including an increased risk of sexual and reproductive health problems, with both immediate and long-term consequences. Additionally, sexual violence can impact mental health, which can be as serious as its physical impact, and may be even longer lasting.

Acts of Power

Sexually violent acts are acts of power, not of sex. This can be seen most clearly when considering war rape and prison rape. War rape is the type of sexual pillaging that occurs in the aftermath of a war, typically characterized by the male soldiers of the victorious military raping the women of the towns they have just taken over. Prison rape is the type of rape that is common (and seriously under reported) in prisons all over the world, including the United States, in which inmates will force sex upon one another as a demonstration of power.

Tracking Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is particularly difficult to track because it is severely under reported. Records from police and government agencies are often incomplete or limited. Most victims of sexual violence do not report it because they are ashamed, afraid of being blamed, concerned about not being believed, or are simply afraid to relive the event by reporting it. Most countries and many NGOs are undertaking efforts to try to increase the reporting of sexual violence as it so obviously has serious physical and psychological impacts on its victims.

On a global scale, international sexual violence is difficult to track because of extreme variation in sexual mores. A good example of cultural variation with regards to sexual violence is the differing views associated with the practice of female circumcision/female genital mutilation (FGM). Female circumcision and FGM refer to the same practice, but the practice is called “female circumcision” by those who condone its usage. FGM has violent connotations and is used by individuals who conceive of the practice as a violation of human rights.

Female circumcision/FGM is a practice used in many parts of Africa in which parts of the female’s vagina, usually the clitoris, are removed in order to decrease sexual pleasure. The operation is performed most commonly on young females. The practice has been the target of many human rights campaigns as a serious affront to the fundamental human rights of the girls undergoing the operation. However, many individuals in Africa view the practice as an acceptable component of their cultures. Neither vantage point is simple; some women in Africa accept the practice, while others have been vocal in speaking out against the practice. Nevertheless, the case demonstrates that cultural norms associated with sex / sex organs (and therefore sexual violence) can vary widely across cultures.

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Sexual Violence Reporting: Sexual violence is severly under reported. This graphic illustrates the magnitude of the underreporting of sexual violence

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature.

Learning Objectives

Explain when and how sexual harassment is prosecuted in the U.S.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Sexual harassment is common in the workplace.
  • Sexual harassment happens any time intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature occurs.
  • Sexual harassment is rarely formally charged in a legal context and individuals who do make such charges official are frequently ridiculed.

Key Terms

  • sexual harassment: intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.

Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying, teasing, or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. In most legal contexts this type of behavior is criminalized. The person intimidating a victim about his or her sexuality could be male or female; men and women can both be perpetrators of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment does not have to be only of a sexual nature; indeed, sexual harassment includes unwelcome and offensive comments about a person’s gender. Regardless of whether the content of the sexual harassment is about sex or gender, both victim and harasser can be either male or female and the victim and the harasser can be the same gender.

Though broad, the legal definition of sexual harassment does not include every injurious statement pertaining to sex or gender. The law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. Sexual harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in adverse employment, such as the victim being fired or demoted. Rather than being a component of criminal law, sexual harassment is typically adjudicated as an issue of employment law. As one might guess, most of these cases turn on whether or not the offensive comment was “serious” or “offhand. ” It is the law’s job to decide if a comment that the victim clearly found serious and offhand is considered so legally.

Even though sexual harassment is less violent than other forms of sexual violence such as rape, victims still suffer serious consequences. Victimhood for individuals subjected to sexual harassment can take a different and equally complicated form as victimhood for individuals who suffer from attacks for physical violence. Sexual violence that is expressed in terms of some sort of physical assault against a victim has become a condemnable act; victims of physical violence are more likely to find others who are sympathetic to their understandable distress. However, sexual harassment is more socially acceptable. Victims will often encounter opposition who claim that the harassment was mere teasing. As such, victimhood in response to sexual harassment has some unique properties. Nevertheless, sexual harassment may lead to temporary or prolonged anxiety, depending on the nature of the harassment and the type of support system in place. Given that harassment is a common problem in the workplace, anxiety on the victim’s part is usually tied into concerns about ramifications for one’s career if one reports the harassment.

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Black Noise: Intervention against sexual harassment: Black Noise, an Indian project countering sexual harassment on the streets of India, stages an intervention in a bus.