Archive for July 13th, 2009
Afghanistan’s Justice Ministry released a revision of the controversial Shia law that legalized rape within marriage, among other provisions. The Associated Press reports that the new version omits original provisions that allowed men to demand sex from their wives and that required women to ask their husbands’ permission to leave their home.
The law sparked international outrage when it was first signed by President Hamid Karzai in March, prompting him to suspend its enforcement while the Justice Ministry conducted a three-month review of the legislation. The law applies only to Afghanistan’s 10-20 percent Shia minority, but many condemned its similarities to the Taliban’s restrictions on women. The revised law will be debated in parliament before it is implemented.
The response of activists to the revised law has been mixed. Brad Adams, Asia Director of the Human Rights Watch, stated “This review process has been shrouded in secrecy. The result is that, despite some modest improvements, many key amendments proposed by civil society groups and parliamentarians have been ignored, and some of the most repressive provisions remain,” according to the UK Telegraph. For example, the law still includes a provision that states a man does not have to provide financial support for his wife unless he has “access to her.”
Women’s rights advocate Shukria Barakzai believes the law will have little affect on the reality of women’s lives. “We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper. What is being practiced everyday, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws. Still there are forced marriages and child marriages and the lack of access to property, and the lack of access to divorce. Still a girl, because she’s a girl, can’t go to school, in very rich families even,” she told the Associated Press.
Rapists in Afghanistan too often get away with their crime, whilst rape victims lack access to justice and experience stigma and shame, according to a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“In some areas, alleged or convicted rapists are, or have links to, powerful commanders, members of illegal armed groups, or criminal gangs, as well as powerful individuals whose influence protects them from arrest and prosecution,” said the report entitled Silence is Violence, launched in Kabul on 8 July.
“Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, their communities and in detention facilities,” it said.
Norah Niland, the OHCHR representative in Afghanistan, said shame and stigma were attached to rape victims rather than to the perpetrators.
Rapists have often managed to evade prosecution and punishment because Afghan law, the penal code and other civil laws lack clarity on the crime.
“There is an urgent need to criminalize rape in Afghan laws,” said Niland who also heads the human rights unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Some traditional practices also serve to blur rape as a crime. Inter-clan or inter-family disputes are sometimes eased or resolved by a suspected rapist being married off to his victim as a form of social cover-up.
‘Baad’, the practice of handing over a girl from one’s own family to placate an aggrieved party, could provide cover for rapists: The suspected rapist or his family clears his alleged crime by giving a girl to one of the sons of the victim’s family.
More importantly, the justice system appears to be inadequate.
“When a victim of rape goes to the police for justice, the police rape her again and say ‘she is a whore’ but they never say ‘whore’ to a rapist,” said Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
Women in Afghanistan are subject to numerous other forms of physical and psychological violence apart from rape or sexual violence, and are frequently deprived of their basic human rights, according to the OHCHR report, which also said attitudes to rape need to change.
“There is a dramatic and urgent need for the government of Afghanistan and society to question attitudes to rape, the larger problem of violence against women, and their complicity in a crime that destroys the life of numerous victims,” said the report.
Shabana Azmi, an Indian actress and social activist who attended the report’s launch in Kabul, said Afghanistan’s high maternal mortality rate, female illiteracy and endemic violence against women were unacceptable and inexcusable.
* “Silence is Violence” (download PDF http://unama.unmissions.org/Portals/UNAMA/vaw-english.pdf), was written by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
* A ‘baad’ practice in Afghanistan
The Wellington Sexual Abuse Network (WSAN), a.k.a. the joined forces of Wellington Rape Crisis, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP and WellStop vote ‘Yes’ have a plan to prevent sexual violence among young people.
WSAN, with support from the Ministry of Justice, will pilot a revolutionary six-week Sex & Ethics programme at Victoria University over the next 18 months. Project co-ordinator Sandra Dickson talked to Salient about sex, pleasure and why the traditional approach to rape prevention doesn’t work.
Before we get into the rest of the interview, how does the Wellington Sexual Abuse Network define rape?
In terms of the law, rape means penis, vagina, unwanted. But most people don’t use the word rape like that. Most of the time when we talk about rape in our lives, we talk about sex that one person doesn’t want to be happening. That could be anal rape, it could be unwanted sex between two men, it could be feeling forced to do things you don’t want to do. In our usual lives, that’s the way we define rape.
And what’s the background to the programme?
We wanted to find prevention approaches that worked. We know that sexual violence has not decreased in our twenty or thirty years of looking at the problem. So the first thing the WSAN did was take a look at what was happening around the world. Basically, there’s a bit of a revolution going on. We’ve got sexual violence prevention starting to change, starting to look at what sexual pleasure is. The idea is, if you’re having great sex with your partner or partners, you won’t get sexual violence in that relationship.
Just to move back to the more traditional approach to rape prevention, why do you think that doesn’t work? Specifically, why does ‘just ask women to say no’ not work?
There’s a whole range of reasons. We’re assuming that rape is something women should be stopping men doing, rather than all of us stopping anyone doing. Also, the thing about the new approach is that it can be applied to any relationship—straight or queer.
How did the original programme in Australia get developed?
In Australia, Moira [Carmody, Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney] and Karen [Willis, head of NSW Rape Crisis] interviewed loads of young people and asked them what they’d been taught about sex. Basically, young people said ‘we know loads about plumbing, how to put on a condom’, some young people said ‘we know we’re supposed to wait until we get married’… different messages, but nothing like ‘how do you hook up with someone you meet at the club and work out what you’ve both agreed to?’ Most of that is done without talking, non-verbal, so if we’re doing non-verbal [communication] to let each other know we’re attracted, how do we know that what we’ve both agreed to is the same thing? What if one of you wants to go home and cuddle, and the other wants to go home and have intercourse? What if one of you wants to go home and take off all your clothes and kiss, and the other has decided on a bondage scene? How do we check that out?
So, basically the programme was founded in Australia and gradually it gained popularity?
We’re actually in the really early stages. The programme has been developed and piloted in Australia over the last three years. We’re the first other country to offer it, and Wellington is the only place in NZ where the programme is available to young people.
And once Moira has trained the educators, they’ll run the programme from Evolve [youth service on Eva Street], Vibe [youth service in Lower Hutt], Massey and Victoria?
Two courses will be offered at Victoria and both run over six weeks for two hours a week. We run it over six weeks to give people a chance to think about it… Apply it… Yeah, no doubt apply it! And it gives people enough time to think about what they’re actually learning. Part of the course involves looking at how we’ve behaved in the past, what we wish we’d done differently—and I think most people have sex stories like that, eh!—and how we might want to do it next time.
And what’s the response from the trials that have been done in Australia?
It’s really interesting. We saw three really big shifts. People have talked about having a much better idea of what they want to do sexually. You start the programme, you might have a pretty good idea some of the time. Six months later, you’ve got a really good idea about what you are and aren’t prepared to do, what you think is good sex and bad sex. You’ve developed that whole way of checking with yourself.
The second big finding was that people reported feeling much more confident that they knew what their partner wanted. We’re not just talking about long-term relationships here, we’re also talking about one-night stands… so basically, young people were having better sex, which is pretty cool.
The third piece of research showed that six months down the line, most people felt much more confident about jumping in to prevent sexual abuse from happening. Maybe ringing a cab and getting that young woman home, ‘cos she’s too pissed to do anything that night, or popping over and saying ‘mate, what’s going on here, what’re you doing?’ Even something as simple as, you know, ‘do you want to be an asshole, what’re you doing?’ The students in Australia talked about that really enthusiastically, they said ‘I know how to do that now, I know how to do that with my friends, this is how we did it last week’… What that does is stop sexual violence happening, and stop people knowing about it but not knowing how to stop it. That’s a huge change.
So that’s a prevention of both types of rape then—unwanted sex when you know the person, and unwanted sex when you don’t know them well, or you don’t know them at all.
Something else I wanted to ask, you said right at the start of the interview, you said the legal definition of rape is a penis in a vagina when it’s not meant to be there. Are you pushing for legislative change? Are you hoping programmes like this will help shift stereotypes?
I think we’ve got real problems with our laws in NZ. At the moment when people report rape, they’re really, really, really unlikely to get a conviction. We have all these stereotypes about that being because people who report rape aren’t telling the truth, but actually research suggests that police only get to hear about 12% of the rapes in NZ.
Most people who are raped are women, so we’re talking about most women not reporting when they’re raped. The second thing is that our justice system at the moment has appalling successful prosecution rates. International research shows us that’s not usually because the complaint is false, it’s usually because there are problems with how rape is prosecuted, with the collection of evidence.
One of the things that we have in NZ, in order to prove that someone has raped you, you have to prove that you didn’t consent to what happened. In a lot of other countries, it’s the other way around. In order to prove that you haven’t raped someone, you have to prove that you actually cared what they wanted. You have to prove that you made sure you knew they had consented.
And that’s happening overseas?
It’s true in the UK now, relatively recently, and it’s true in some parts of Australia. So actually, we’re behind Australia when it comes to rape law.
So rape prevention seems to involve both education and legislation… where does the Sex & Ethics programme fit in?
If the course works well, then hopefully we’ll see these ideas being used in schools. Instead of ‘girls, you just say no, and boys, you just listen to the girls’, we’ll actually get some ideas about how you negotiate good sex, because at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to have good sex?
Calls to the rape crisis line have more than doubled as courageous victims taking on their attackers and winning have helped remove the stigma attached to sex assault.
But disturbingly, new figures show that up to four women a week are being gang raped.
Brave young women like Tegan Wagner – who gave up her right to anonymity in order to tell her story and help other victims of rape come forward – have been instrumental in forcing a “cultural shift”.
“I think it’s fantastic that more women are speaking out,” Ms Wagner said yesterday. “They now know how empowering it can be. I have definitely seen a change in society’s attitude towards sexual assault.”
In the past three years, calls to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre have risen by 130 per cent – from 2927 calls in 2004/05 to 6730 in 2008/09. But the increase does not necessarily point to a rise in actual sexual assaults, Rape Crisis Centre manager Karen Willis said.
“There has been a cultural shift – society views sexual assault differently,” Ms Willis said. “There are reasons for this but I think we now have a generation who say ‘enough is enough’ and have taken a strong stance against rape. Certainly the bravery of those women like Tegan Wagner and the woman in the Coffs Harbour Bulldogs scandal did empower other victims to come forward. I don’t think you can underestimate what those victims did for the way sexual assault is now viewed in society.”
There were 9377 sexual assaults recorded last year. But that is only 15 per cent of the actual number of assaults occurring, Ms Willis said. Gang rape is also a common occurrence, with four women a week calling the crisis centre.
Police said a woman recently was sexually assaulted by a group of men at a party but did not want to press charges.
“It’s not how some people might view it. These men usually prey on a vulnerable woman who is at a party and she might go outside to be sick or even agree to have sex with one man and then others become involved,” Ms Willis said. “It might be two men but (nevertheless) that’s gang rape.”
Due to the growing demand on the service centre, Health Minister John Della Bosca has given $660,000 to employ specific counsellors to deal with adult victims of child sexual assault.
While victims are coming forward, many still feel too vulnerable to report the crime to police. Sex crimes squad commander Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec said police had not noted an increase in sexual assaults.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing – we are making sure victims take the first step and start the road to recovery by contacting someone like the Rape Crisis Centre,” he said.
Annual report of Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel sheds light on phenomenon of sexual assault in workplace. Number of complaints on harassment at work rises by 12% in 2008
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel will submit its annual report to the Knesset on Monday morning, this time focusing on a particularly touchy subject – sexual assaults in the workplace.
Last year the number of complaints regarding sexual harassment in the workplace rose by 12%. Reports on workplace harassment reveal that 81% of employees have complained of sexual harassment, 11.4% of them referring to rape and attempted rape, and 7.6% to indecent assaults.
In 2008 support centers received 37,526 complaints (7,793 of them new), compared to 40,518 complaints in 2007. Eleven percent of the complainants reported of sexual harassment in their place of work.
In 70.4% of the cases the attacker was the employer or supervisor, whereas in 14.3% cases it was a friend or an acquaintance. Sixty-three percent of the victims who have approached the centers are under the age of 18. In the passing year the number of complainants who have turned to the police has risen 11%.
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Shiluv Millward Brown institute for the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel was released ahead of a week marking sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.
The survey reveals that one-third of the Israeli public has been exposed to sexual harassment in their place of work, but many are not aware of the existence of a complaints supervisor.
More than half the public (54%) are not aware that sexual relations between employee and employer are forbidden, while 38% believe that sexual relations are permissible as long as both sides are consenting.
Michal Rosin, CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, says that “the issue of sexual assaults in workplaces has played a major role in the activity of the Association in the past few years.
“From an extensive activity of education departments in workplaces – including the training of executives, employees and sexual assault prevention supervisors – we have learned of a gap between the frequency of the phenomenon and the number of reports and complaints submitted regarding sexual assault in the workplace.
“There is no doubt that the enactment of laws has helped, but there is still a long way ahead before the law is implemented,” she added.
In 2008 the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel held 610 workshops and lectures to executives and employees and approximately 100 sessions as part of courses for sexual assault prevention supervisors at workplaces.