Archive for the ‘Rape and Sexual Assault’ Category

The number of sexual harassment cases among civil service employees rose 40 percent last year, according to the annual report released by the Civil Service Commission’s disciplinary division.

Over the year, 125 sexual harassment files were opened compared with 90 the year before. As recently as three years ago, the annual figure was 65. Of the 125 cases filed last year, 20 were filed with the disciplinary court for civil service employees.

The executive director general of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, Michal Rozin, said highly publicized cases encourage victims of sexual harassment to file complaints. Such cases include the allegations of sexual misconduct against police commissioner candidate Uri Bar-Lev, and the trial and conviction of former President Moshe Katsav on rape and other charges.

“We have seen this reflected in a substantial way in the flood of phone calls to rape crisis centers and to our emergency hotlines beginning on Thursday morning when the verdict in the Katsav case was announced,” Rozin said. “We have just been swamped with calls in the past several days.”

Some observers say more complainants came forward in 2010 after Orly Innes’ complaint filed with the Civil Service Commission. Innes said she was sexually harassed by the outgoing director general of the Public Security Ministry, Hagai Peleg.

The report from the Civil Service Commission, which was recently provided to the Justice Ministry, shows that the Education Ministry suffered the largest number of complaints in 2010. That year, 26 files were opened, compared with 12 the year before.

The Health Ministry had the second largest number of complaints, 23, followed by the Israel Postal Company and the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which each had eight.

Agencies with smaller numbers of complaints included the court administration, the Nuclear Research Center and educational television, with one each. The Prime Minister’s Office was the source of two complaints.

Rozin said high-profile sexual misconduct cases such as the Katsav case or the case involving former minister Haim Ramon’s kissing of a female soldier revive painful memories among victims. Many of these victims then feel the need to talk about what they went through.

Rozin said the Katsav case had a major impact. She said that a survey conducted in 2010 showed that 40 percent of women experience sexual harassment at the workplace.

Attorney Rachel Toren, who represented Innes, agreed that media coverage of sexual misconduct cases encourages other victims to come forward. She cautioned, however, that not every complaint is well-founded.

Innes not only filed a complaint against Peleg, but also went public with allegations against Uri Bar-Lev, who withdrew his candidacy as police commissioner following allegations of sexual misconduct by Innes and another women.

Tziona Koenig-Yair, who heads the equal employment opportunity commission at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, said publicized cases involving sexual harassment cause an increase in the number of complaints filed. But some people dispute this, she said.

“The message that has come from labor courts over the past year and from the judicial system as a whole is a message encouraging women to file sexual harassment complaints,” she said.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/sexual-harassment-cases-in-israel-s-civil-service-rose-40-in-2010-1.335064

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One year after the earthquake which killed 230,000 people and injured 300,000 on 11 January 2010, more than one million people still live in appalling conditions in tent cities in the capital Port-au-Prince and in the south of Haiti, where women are at serious risk of sexual attacks. Those responsible are predominately armed men who roam the camps after dark.

More than 250 cases of rape in several camps were reported in the first 150 days after January’s earthquake, according to Amnesty International’s 39-page report, Aftershocks: Women speak out against sexual violence in Haiti’s camps. (Download as a pdf file http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_21131.pdf)

One year on, rape survivors continue to arrive at the office of a local women’s support group almost every other day.

Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International Haiti researcher, said: “Women already struggling to come to terms with losing their loved ones, homes and livelihoods in the earthquake, now face the additional trauma of living under the constant threat of sexual attack. For the prevalence of sexual violence to end, the incoming government must ensure that the protection of women and girls in the camps is a priority. This has so far been largely ignored in the response to the wider humanitarian crisis.”

Sexual violence was widespread in Haiti before January 2010 but this has been exacerbated by the conditions since the earthquake, said Amnesty. The limited assistance the authorities previously provided has been undermined by the destruction of police stations and court houses. This has made it more difficult to report sexual violence.

Over 50 survivors of sexual violence shared their experiences with Amnesty International for the study.

One 14-year-old girl, Machou, lives in a makeshift camp for displaced people in Carrefour Feuilles, south-west Port-au-Prince. She was raped in March when she went to the toilet. She told Amnesty:

“A boy came in after me and opened the door. He gagged me with his hand and did what he wanted to do… He hit me. He punched me. I didn’t go to the police because I don’t know the boy, it wouldn’t help. I feel really sad all the time…I’m afraid it will happen again.”

One woman, Suzie, recounted how she was living in a makeshift shelter with her two sons and a friend when they were attacked around 1am on 8 May. Suzie and her friend were both blindfolded and raped in front of their children by a gang of men who forced their way into their shelter. Suzie told Amnesty:

“After they left I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have any reaction… Women victims of rape should go to hospital but I didn’t because I didn’t have any money… I don’t know where there is a clinic offering treatment for victims of violence.”

Suzie lost her parents, brothers and husband in the January earthquake. Her home was also destroyed.

Amnesty’s report highlights how the lack of security and policing in and around the camps is a major factor for the increase in attacks over the past year.

The response by police officers to survivors of rape is described as inadequate. Many survivors of rape have said that when they sought police help they were told officers could do nothing.

Gerardo Ducos added: “There has been a complete breakdown in Haiti’s already fragile law and order system since the earthquake with women living in insecure overcrowded camps. There is no security for the women and girls in the camps. They feel abandoned and vulnerable to being attacked. Armed gangs attack at will; safe in the knowledge that there is still little prospect that they will be brought to justice.”

Amnesty is calling for the new Haitian government to urgently take steps to end violence against women as part of a wider plan to address the humanitarian effort. Amnesty’s report insists that women in the camps must be fully involved in developing any such plan.

Immediate steps should include improving security in the camps and ensuring that police are able to respond effectively and that those responsible are prosecuted.

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19163

Women’s rights organizations expressed relief over the conviction of former president Moshe Katsav on rape and indecent assault charges.

When the details of the verdict became known, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel reacted to the verdict by saying it was a sad and difficult day for the country.

“It is a day on which the truth that convicted him and his true face came to light, after the four difficult years the victims have gone through, [after] the deficient conduct of the prosecution and the defamation campaign waged by Katsav and his attorneys against the victims,” they said.

Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen of the Women’s International Zionist Organization called the verdict a substantial advance on the victims’ behalf, saying the court had recognized that the testimony of the victims could lack coherence and could at times even be contradictory, “because that is an inseparable part of the pathology of victims of crime, but it is still the truth.”

“An additional painful point is that it now turns out there were many who knew what was happening for years and didn’t do or say a thing and even led to [Katsav’s] election as president not uttering a word. They have a lot of soul-searching to do,” said Ehrenfreund-Cohen, who directs WIZO’s division for the advancement of the status of women.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers said the handling of the case against Katsav by the prosecution was problematic. It termed the conduct of then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz in the case “flip-flopping” and said it was difficult for the victims.

The group said the case had trouble, “from the declaration that the president is a serial sex offender to a problematic plea bargain agreement that deprived the victims of their right to testify and [would have] prevented the presentation of evidence in court. They also ignored other prior testimony due to the statute of limitations … The Katsav case will remain forever as a festering wound for the public, etched into the collective memory as a story of abandonment and the failure of the Israeli legal system.”

Rape crisis centers reported a marked increase in the number of calls received by their emergency hotline yesterday. Keren Shahar, who directs the rape crisis center in Rehovot said among the women calling yesterday there were those that wondered how the verdict would affect their own cases. Some said it made them relive their own experiences.

Shahar said most of the callers said the verdict was a great relief, however.

The Rehovot center’s volunteer coordinator, Hava Pik, said there were others who deliberated over whether they wished to undergo what the victims experienced in the trial.

“There is great hope,” she added, “that the verdict will constitute a milestone and strengthen women who are deliberating over whether to file a complaint and that even instances of ‘just a kiss’ or ‘just a touch’ have received recognition as sexual harassment.”

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/women-s-groups-slam-problematic-trial-despite-satisfaction-at-outcome-1.334385

Katha Pollitt admires Julian Assange for his work on WikiLeaks, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he has committed sex crimes

The problem is not that many WikiLeaks supporters question the zeal with which Swedish authorities are pursuing Assange. Maybe it’s true that an ordinary guy, faced with similar accusations, would have been allowed to slip away quietly once he left Sweden rather than become the subject of an Interpol red notice. (Maybe not, though. The 11 Swedes on Interpol’s public red list include people wanted for fraud and other non-spectacular crimes. Much has been made of the fact that only one of these, an alleged child molester, is charged with a sex crime. But the vast majority of wanted people are privately listed, so actually there’s no way of knowing if Assange’s case is exceptional.)

Given that US politicians, from Joe Biden to Sarah Palin, have called for Assange’s head, it isn’t paranoid to suspect that he is being singled out in order to extradite him to the United States. But it could also be that Sweden is following up because law enforcement officials get mad when world-class celebrities flee the country and then thumb their noses at them – cf Roman Polanski.

What’s disturbing is the way some WikiLeaks admirers have misrepresented the allegations, attacked the women and made light of date rape. It’s been known for some time that Assange was accused of using his body weight to force sex on one woman, ignoring her demand that he use a condom, and penetrating the other woman while she slept, also without a condom, despite her wishes; yet writer after writer has treated the whole thing as a big joke.

Appearing on Keith Olbermann’s show after he put up $20,000 to help bail Assange out of a British jail, Michael Moore – apparently an expert on Swedish rape law – called the case “a bunch of hooey”: “the condom broke during consensual sex”.

The heroic Sady Doyle, a blogger at Tiger Beatdown, gets lots of credit for starting a Twitter campaign that forced Moore and Olbermann to – sort of – back off their sexist chortling. But it’s too late: the “revelations” that Sweden has laws against condomless sex and that “Ms A” is a CIA “honeytrap” are all over the left blogosphere.

And it isn’t just men who are spreading it. On the Huffington Post, Naomi Wolf posted a satirical letter to Interpol, aka the “world’s dating police”, repeating the broken-condom falsehood and adding that Assange’s crimes include “texting and tweeting in the taxi… while on a date and, disgustingly enough, reading stories about himself online” in the cab. Is this the same Naomi Wolf who wrote a 2004 New York magazine cover story accusing Harold Bloom of putting his hand on her thigh 20 years before? Wolf argues that the accusations against Assange demean the seriousness of rape.

In fact, Swedish law does distinguish among degrees of rape, with Assange being accused on one count of the least grave kind. In a much-cited letter to the Guardian, Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape argued that Sweden’s low rape conviction rate proved that Assange was being set up – in 2006, she claimed, only six people were convicted out of 4,000 reported. Not so.

“I don’t know where they got those figures,” Amnesty International’s Katarina Bergehed told me by phone from Sweden. “In 2006 there were 3,074 rapes and 227 convictions.” (Sweden tracks rape by individual acts, not by number of victims, so the prevalence of rape is less than it looks.) Bergehed should know: she wrote the Swedish section of the Amnesty report on sex crimes in the Nordic countries that Assange supporters cite as proving that Sweden is the worst place in Europe for rape victims.

One reason the Swedish rape conviction rate is low is that – thanks to 30 years of feminist progress – the law defines sexual violence and coercion broadly but, as in other countries, police and juries often do not. The same seems to be true of large swaths of the American left.

WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know – it’s a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?

Extracts from a longer comment piece at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/27/rape-left-julian-assange-swedish-law-wikileaks

See also: http://www.fugitivus.net/2010/12/22/dear-second-and-third-wave-feminists-with-publicly-recognizable-names/

Sexual harassment against Pakistani women, particularly rape and gang rape incidents have increased to an alarmingly rate of over 13 percent across the Punjab with the provincial capital and the Gujranwala regions the most vulnerable.

According to statistics, available with TheNation, about 110 women out of total 271 and 358 out of 2,427 women were victimized of gang rape and rape respectively in the Lahore region with an increase by 12.5 and 13.5 percent during the first 11 months of current year as compared to the corresponding period of 2009.

By analysing the official documents, it seemed that the provincial police comprising on above 1,80,000 police officers/officials have nothing to do except to secure their own skins in front of judges and senior offices if any case was discussed.

Gang rape: About 271 incidents of gang rape took place in 35 districts of the Punjab in 2010 with the difference of 13 percent as compared to 2009 in which only 136 unpleasant incidents had occurred.

In the DG Khan region – the districts of Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh and Layyah remained at the lowest level as only two incidents of gang rape took place in Layyah during this span of time.

The pathetic situation regarding gang rape was observed in Lahore with 49 incidents, 30 in Sheikhupura, 25 in Kasur, 16 in Gujranwala, 11 each in Rawalpindi and Faisalabad.

The provincial police however claimed to apprehend only 385 rapists out of 643 while 48 cases of gang rape are still under investigation. About 125 challans were sent in the courts and the Punjab police cancelled 47 cases besides furnishing different pleas.

Rape: About 2,427 women/girls were victimised of rape during the 11 months of 2010 with 12.5 percent increase as compared to the same era of the last year in which above 2,184 women were raped, with the Bahawalpur region the most susceptible as many as 496 incidents occurred there.

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/27-Dec-2010/Rape-incidents-up-13pc-in-2010

When a woman volunteers for the military, she gives up the comfort, safety and freedom of civilian life. This she expects, as do men.

Serving her country shouldn’t mean doubling her likelihood of being sexually assaulted, or, if she is, lowering the chance that the offender will be punished. But that’s what the military means for women, according to the Service Women’s Action Network.

What the Pentagon gives out in the way of this sort of information shows only a slice of reality, says Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine and the executive director of the servicewomen’s group, which is based in New York.

Her group has gone to court with its claim that the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are stonewalling its request for more data.

A Defense Department press officer, Maj. Monica Bland, wouldn’t address the litigation specifically but acknowledged the problem.

“Much work remains to be done,” Bland said by e-mail, and “the Department is committed to the goals of preventing sexual assault, increasing reporting, and improving DoD response to the crime.”

The servicewomen’s group puts it this way in its lawsuit: “Sexual assault pervades the ranks of the American military.” The American Civil Liberties Union and its Connecticut chapter are also plaintiffs in the case, filed in federal court in Connecticut.

They want records, on mistreatment ranging from sexual harassment to rape, that will better reveal the frequency and circumstances, the prosecution of cases and the treatment given victims, who often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The various branches of the armed forces define, count, track and report incidents differently. Because of that, the annual reports Congress requires of the Defense Department can’t tell the full picture. Letters from the servicewomen’s organization to agencies within Defense and the VA produced few records, so the group filed suit last week.

The idea that members and veterans of the military would have to go to court to get this information is astounding. Where is Julian Assange when he’s really needed?

Even incomplete, the numbers that are available are disturbing enough.

Surveys in recent years show that roughly one in three servicewomen say they were sexually assaulted during their time in the military. Of those who say they were raped, 14 percent said they were gang-raped, according to a survey reported by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2003.

As hesitant as sexual-assault victims in civilian life are to report the crime, it’s worse in the military. Fear of reprisal, uncertainty over what will result, and the military structure and mindset all discourage victims from reporting.

Still, either reporting is getting better or sexual predation is getting worse in the services. A Defense Department report released December shows sexual assaults at the military service academies are up.

And, citing Defense Department figures, the lawsuit says the number of sexual assaults within the armed services rose 73 percent from 2004 to 2006 and 11 percent from 2008 to 2009.

While the government has made it easier for servicemen and servicewomen to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder, the improvements won’t do much to help victims of sexual mistreatment, according to Bhagwati. The veteran with combat- related PTSD no longer has to prove a precise link between his condition and a specific episode. But victims of sexual assault have to show they were assaulted, hard to do in a system where records are often not kept.

And yet, 71 percent of female veterans seeking VA disability benefits for PTSD have been sexually traumatized, says the lawsuit.

Already we know enough to recognize a very serious problem. And it seems to be getting worse, even after high-profile promises to protect service members against sexual predators, increased reporting and more educational programs, and recommendations to standardize reporting and create environments where victims feel safe to report and offenders fear the consequences.

So it’s no surprise that while about 40 percent of those accused of sexual assault in the civilian world get prosecuted, only 8 percent of military sex offenders do.

Consider the case of three enlisted sailors who were discharged from the Navy after the rape of a female midshipman enrolled at Annapolis.

During a cruise with classmates, she and nine other midshipmen left the ship for a party in a sailor’s apartment. The other midshipmen eventually left her behind with three enlisted sailors, at least one of whom raped her, according to the new report on sexual violence at military academies.

The sailors’ punishment was discharge, not civilian prosecution.

Surely the worldwide sex scandal involving some Catholic priests taught that you can’t handle these things internally and let the predator move someplace else to prey on the unaware.

Protecting servicemen and servicewomen from sexual mistreatment, whether harassment, assault or rape, is hard enough when you know precisely what’s going on.

But until there’s enough information to know that, it simply can’t get much better.

And no one signs up for that.

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/12/rape_victims_ask_military_wont.html

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on 18th December 2010 to name and shame individuals and parties to armed conflict that are “credibly suspected” of committing rape or other forms of sexual violence.

The council said it intends to use the list, to be compiled by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “for more focused United Nations engagement with those parties,” including imposing targeted sanctions.

The resolution adopted by the council reiterates deep concern that despite its repeated condemnation, rapes and attacks on women and children caught in conflict continue to occur “and in some situations have become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”

The council action follows the rape of 303 civilians — 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and 3 boys — in 13 villages in eastern Congo between July 30 and Aug. 2. Even in the conflict-wracked region, where rape has become a daily hazard and some women have been sexually assaulted repeatedly over the years, the numbers released by the U.N. were shocking.

Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. envoy trying to combat sexual violence in conflict, welcomed the adoption of the resolution, saying the new system of monitoring and accountability should “shatter the vicious cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence.”

She stressed that the naming and shaming “must apply equally whether the victim is an eight-year-old girl or an 80-year-old grandmother.”

“Today’s resolution will help ensure that mass rape is never again met with mass impunity,” she said. “Instead of serving as a cheap, silent and effective tactic of war, sexual violence will be a liability for armed groups. It will expose their superiors to increased international scrutiny, seal off the corridors of power and close all exits to those who commit, command or condone such acts.”

The International Criminal Court has added rape and sexual violence to the list of war crimes. Congo’s former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba is currently on trial at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, for murder, rape and pillage committed by members of his private militia in Central African Republic in 2002-2003. Wallstrom said the number of alleged rapes exceeds the number of killings.

Last month, she said there should be more prosecutions for rape during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Only 12 cases have been prosecuted out of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 victims in Bosnia, which shows “the magnitude of the problem,” she said.

Human Rights Watch called the council’s decision to publish an annual list of alleged perpetrators “a tremendous step toward ending this horrendous practice.”

“Today is a big day for women worldwide,” Marianne Mollmann, the organization’s women’s rights advocacy director, said in a statement.

The new resolution will provide the international community “with an additional tool to offer justice to thousands of victims of wartime rape,” she said.

The resolution reiterated the council’s demand “for the complete cessation with immediate effect by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence” and called on parties to armed conflict “to make and implement specific and time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence.”

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hZX_s3mdYSZTNdlgfODM_OJh4_dw?docId=2803b3e0d93d49e7a52b2b6eab24df36

Earlier this year Millicent Gaika, a 30-year-old South African woman, was tied up, beaten, strangled, tortured and raped for five hours by a man as he screamed that he would “cure” Millicent of her lesbianism.

Ndumie Funda, a local community activist whose lesbian partner was murdered in the course of a similar “corrective rape,” reached out to Millicent through a small local charity she set up to rescue and support survivors of “corrective rape.” But last month they both had to go into hiding after the South African government released the perpetrator they had helped to jail on 60 rand (less than $10) bail.

Ndumie, Millicent and others decided to fight back against the rapists and the lack of accountability for their crimes. From a Cape Town safehouse for survivors of ‘corrective rape,’ the women created a petition on Change.org targeting South African Justice Minister Jeffrey Radebe.

Please, they wrote, declare ‘corrective rape’ a hate crime, which would both empower and require South African police to take a harder line on the vicious crime.

More than 500 “corrective rapes” are reported in South Africa each year, and more than 30 South African lesbians have been murdered because of their sexuality over the past decade. Worse, for every 100 men charged with rape in South Africa, 96 of them walk free.

We can help here. Last year, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority went on record refusing to formally declare ‘corrective rape’ a hate crime, saying “It is not something that the South African government has prioritized as a specific project.”

But with enough international pressure on the South African government, such heinous crimes might finally be taken seriously.

More than 2,000 Change.org members have added their name to the petition created by Ndumie and Millicent.

Click here to add yours: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/south_africa_declare_corrective_rape_a_hate-crime?alert_id=SlPqUMmEGV_HsABUUMuhg&me=aa

Thank you for taking action,
The Change.org Team

P.S. Every time a new person signs the petition, the Justice Minister’s office automatically gets an email. So once you join, will you forward this to friends and family, and post on Facebook, so that they hear a global outcry?

Over the past couple of months Delhi, has been witnessing an average of one rape case almost everyday and experts have attributed the alarming trend to two major factors – a low conviction rate and lack of better and preventive policing.

Citing rape to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the county, they say it takes an enormous amount of time to bring to book the guilty.

According to police records, over 400 rape cases have been reported in the capital in the year 2010 alone.

“There is a problem in policing here. Police do not register crime freely and there is rarely adequate investigation done in cases of molestation,” says Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer.

“People do not become rapists all of a sudden. Rapists have a history in molestation and other petty crimes. But since complaints against them are not registered by police early on, they go on to become bigger criminals and rapists,” she says.

The conviction rate in rape and molestation cases in India is a dismal 27 per cent. Long drawn trials and pressure on the families of victims are some of the major reasons for this. Police norms and behaviour are a deterrent to many rape victims who do not lodge any complaint against the crime at all.

Senior CPM politburo member Brinda Karat favours “time bound judicial process” to deal with rape cases.

“Conviction rate in rape cases and policing in general is poor in Delhi. It can be better. Also, we need more social awareness not only in Delhi but all over the country against crime against women,” she says.

The Delhi Women’s Commission has written a letter to the chief justice of India to set up fast track courts for rape cases.

“We have requested the CJI to deliver the verdict in a rape case within six months through fast track courts. It will be a deterrent for the criminals,” says its chief Barkha Singh.

The commission is also set to launch an awareness programme through its ‘MahilaPanchayats’ to raise awareness regarding crimes against women in the capital and ask people to help the victims of molestation and rape.

“We are also trying to get cars with tinted glasses banned in the city. Such vehicles are breeding grounds for crime while on the move,” adds Singh.

Last week, a teenage girl was abducted and gang raped in a moving vehicle after she protested their lewd remarks in the Sultanpuri area of northwest Delhi.

Days earlier, a BPO employee was abducted and raped by four men in south Delhi and a 22-year-old woman was abducted and raped by six men in northeast Delhi.

Psychiatrist Samir Parikh blames the increasing number of rapes on the mentality of “getting away with anything”.

“The rising number of cases suggest that the fear of consequence of action is on decline and the perception of ‘get away with anything’ is growing. Why is it that in Delhi young girls in buses don’t find any support when they are harassed?” he asks.

Kiran Bedi, who has set up her own NGO and says that in matters relating to crime against women, the bail should be conditional.

“Guarantee should be high in case of bail in rape cases and in case of repeat crimes, the guarantor should also be punished,” adds Bedi.

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_rise-in-rape-incidents-due-to-low-conviction-poor-policing-experts_1481867

There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. Totally unfair, right?

Well, no, I’m not sure it’s that straightforward. The actual details of what happened are hard to come by, and are largely filtered through tabloid sources that are quick to offer crucial facts like the hair color of the women (blonde) and the clothes they wore (pink, tight), but it sounds like the sex was consensual on the condition that a condom was used. It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. This is of course speculation based on the bare-bones reported description of events, but it’s at least clear that “this is a case of a broken condom” isn’t close to the whole story. (It’s also worth pointing out that the charge is actually a quite minor one in Sweden, and the punishment is a $700 fine).

Withdrawal of consent should be grounds for a rape charge (and it is, in Sweden) — if you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape. That may not sound entirely familiar to Americans, since the United States has relatively regressive rape laws; in most states, there’s a requirement of force in order to prove rape, rather than just demonstrating lack of consent. Consent is more often used as a defense to a rape charge, and it’s hard to convict someone of rape based solely on non-consent. Some states, like New York, have rape laws on the books which include “no means no” provisions for intercourse — basically, if a reasonable person would have understood that the sex was not consensual, then that’s rape. It seems obvious enough, but those laws are not used nearly as often as forcible-rape laws; they aren’t on the books in many states, and they’re difficult to enforce even where they are.

Withdrawal of consent gets even trickier. It’s an obvious enough concept for feminist thinkers who have spent more than 10 minutes considering the realities of sex and sexual assault: If you consent to sex but then at some point during sex withdraw that consent by telling your partner to stop, your partner should stop, and if your partner doesn’t stop then that’s assault. It’s not too hard, for those of us who have had sex, to imagine how this works — I have a difficult time imagining any decent human being hearing their partner say “Stop!” in the middle of sex and not, you know, stopping. I can’t imagine hearing my partner say “Stop” and not stopping. And if your partner is saying “Stop stop stop stop!” and you keep going, yes, you are raping them.

But the concept of withdrawing consent seems to be a little tougher for folks who think of sex as something women give to men (or men take from women); it’s definitely a tougher concept for folks who think that sex inherently sullies women. I suspect that the thought process goes, If the damage (penetrative sex) has already been done, then the situation can’t possibly turn into a rape, because the initial penetration itself occurred consensually, and it’s that penetration that’s the basis of the harm in any rape case. Consent, in that framework, isn’t the point. The U.S. is a bit of a patchwork when it comes to withdrawal of consent laws, with some states recognizing that withdrawal of consent is valid and that it is rape if you keep having sex with someone after they’ve said no, and other states either not touching the issue or not recognizing as rape situations where consent is withdrawn post-penetration. Making the Assange story juicier blog-bait in the U.S. is the fact that we’re deeply wedded to the notion of rape as forcible; despite many of our best efforts, a consent-based framework for evaluating sexual assault is not yet widely accepted. So we hear “she consented to sex but only with a condom and he didn’t use a condom and now she’s claiming he raped her” and we go, “say what?”, because that’s so far removed from the Law & Order: SVU sexual assault model. When, really, if you evaluate sexual assault through the lens of consent rather than force or violence, the picture starts to look a little bit different.

Whether withdrawal of consent is what actually happened here is impossible to tell, so I’m not suggesting that Assange is a rapist or that these charges are 100% definitely on-point; I have no idea. But neither do the commentators who are saying that Assange did nothing more than have sex without a condom. And it’s important to counter the “haha sex by surprise those crazy Swedes” media narrative with the fact that actually, non-consensual sex is assault and should be recognized as such by law. Consenting to one kind of sexual act doesn’t mean that you consent to anything else your partner wants to do; if it’s agreed that the only kind of sex we’re having is with a condom, then it does remove an element of consent to have sex without a condom with only one partner’s knowledge. To use another example, if you and your partner agree that you can penetrate her, it doesn’t necessarily follow that she has the green light to penetrate you whenever and however.

I’m not particularly interested in debating What Assange Did or Whether Assange Is A Rapist, and I’d appreciate it if we could steer clear of that in the comments section. Rather, I’m interested in pushing back on the primary media narrative about this case, which is that women lie and exaggerate about rape, and will call even the littlest thing — a broken condom! — rape if they’re permitted to under a too-liberal feminist legal system. In fact, there are lots of good reasons to support consent-based sexual assault laws, and to recognize that consent goes far beyond “yes you can put that in here now.” It’s a shame that the shoddy, sensationalist reporting on this case have muddied those waters.

UPDATE: As greater clarity is brought to these charges, it sounds like it was a lot more than “they agreed he would wear a condom and he didn’t.” According to the Press Association, “The court heard Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner … The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.” Emphasis mine. Kate Harding has more.

Comment published at http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/12/06/some-thoughts-on-sex-by-surprise/

This is the result of a review by police following articles in a local paper that found a sharp drop in rapes in Baltimore – disproportionate to that of other cities – was a result of police too quickly dismissing complaints from women.

After the stories, city officials launched their own investigation and the results were revealed at a recent City Council hearing:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the audit, along with other comprehensive changes in recent months, “has forever changed and improved the way sexual assault cases are investigated in Baltimore, ensuring that all victims of sexual assault have their complaints investigated fully and are treated with dignity and respect.”

Officials outlined a series of reforms, including barring beat officers from dismissing complaints without review, and police now work closely with rape crisis centers, even using counselors on interviews, to ease concerns of victims.

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/blog/2010/12/half_of_rape_reports_thought_f.html

See also: Recognizing rape: Baltimore’s attitude about sexual assault has changed

Legislators call for parliamentary inquiry as data shows a significant increase in sex crimes within families.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) called on the government to create a national program for tackling the increasing levels of sexual violence in Israeli society, especially cases of incest and sexual molestation within the family.

Presenting to the Knesset its semiannual report, which showed a sharp increase in sexually violent crimes and rape, ARCCI executive director Michal Rozin declared that “it is time for everyone to join forces and build a national program, which will include all government ministries, to eradicate sexual violence in Israel completely.”

Rozin added that not only had sexual violence in the country increased, but “the scope and variety of the abuse and attacks has intensified, too.”

During the meeting, which included the Knesset committees for Labor, Welfare and Health; the Status of Women; and the Rights of the Child, legislators said they would call on Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to establish a parliamentary inquiry to look into the growing cases of domestic violence and child molestation.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said at the hearing that despite improvements in recent years in treating children and youth at risk, he would find a way to increase the budget for centers providing assistance and treatment to victims of rape and sexual assault.

According to the report, which reflects data collected by ARCCI’s rape crisis hot line and information reported by its affiliated centers around the country, during the first half of this year there was a rise of 13 percent in the number of new calls for help, going from 3,773 in 2009 to 4,245 so far this year.

Among the calls received by the hot line, 1,359 callers reported being victims of rape or attempted rape, a 13% increase from the previous year; 166 said they’d been subjected to a gang rape or a group sexual assault, a rise of 23% over the previous year; and there were 10 reports of statutory rape.

In addition, 254 people reported either ongoing sexual harassment at work or a one-time experience of sexual harassment, a 14.5% increase from 2009, while 275 said they had been victims of sexual assault.

Out of those who called the hot line, the group reported that 66.5% had been under the age of 18, and 40% of those reporting incest or sexual abuses in the family had been under 18.

Overall, sexual abuse within the family increased by 11% in the first half of 2010, with most of the reports involving incest perpetrated by fathers, brothers, uncles and other relatives. Mothers and sisters were also found to have committed these crimes, the report noted.

“Last year the media reported numerous cases of gang rape, incest, sexual abuse of minors by family members and sexual assault by teens against their own peers,” Rozin pointed out.

“These cases and many more unreported cases only serve to back up our data that there has been an alarming increase in the number of people reporting such crimes.”

Three years ago, the government, then under the leadership of Ehud Olmert, committed to investing some NIS 30 million to build a special program for victims of rape and other sexual attacks. However, ARCCI has pointed out that little has progressed since then, and today there are simply not enough services and treatment centers available to cope with this increase in cases.

At the meeting, Herzog said his ministry’s budget for treating victims of rape and sexual abuse was more than NIS 4.5m. a year for 10 centers and that he was committed to increasing that amount in the future.

http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=197459

More than one in three South African men questioned in a survey admitted to rape, the latest evidence in the country of a violent culture of patriarchy.

Researchers found that more than three in four men said they had perpetrated violence against women.

Nearly nine in 10 men believe that a woman should obey her husband – and almost six in 10 women also agreed with the statement.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. Last year a survey by the Medical Research Council (MRC) found that 28% of men in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces said they had raped a woman or girl.

A new MRC study in Gauteng, the country’s wealthiest province, found that 37.4% of men admitted having committed a rape, while 25.3% of women said they had been raped.

The survey questioned 511 women and 487 men, of whom 90% were black and 10% white.

Rachel Jewkes of the MRC said: “We see a situation where the use of violence is so widespread that not only is it seen as being legitimate but I think quite often women forget it. They just see it as a normal effect.”

Jewkes cited her survey’s findings on gender attitudes. Although both largely agreed that “people should be treated the same whether they are male or female”, 86.7% of men and 57.9% of women also endorsed the statement that “a woman should obey her husband”.

Some 53.9% of men and 29.8% of women agreed that “a man should have the final say in all family matters”, while 37.3% of men and 23.2% of women supported the view that “a woman needs her husband’s permission to do paid work”.

Asked about sexual entitlement in marriage, only 55% of both men and women said they thought “it is possible for a woman to be raped by her husband”. Some 38.7% of men and 29.3% of women thought that “a woman cannot refuse to have sex with her husband” and 22.3% of men and 8.8% of women felt that “if a wife does something wrong, her husband has the right to punish her”.

The survey also found that 32% of men and women agreed that “in any rape case, one would have to question whether the victim is promiscuous”, while 20.1% of men and 15.6% of women said that “in some rape cases, women want it to happen”.

Jewkes said: “What we see here is a set of attitudes reflecting men’s views that they are legitimate in the use of violence against women, and women in many respects acquiescing to this.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/25/south-african-rape-survey

Thousands of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo marched against mass rapes, which have become increasingly prevalent in the country as a weapon of war. According to CNN, many of the marchers were rape survivors. The march took place in Bukavu, located in eastern Congo and followed a peace and development forum, reports Agence France Presse.

World March of Women, together with local women’s groups, organized the march. Organizers aimed to use the event to fight the stigma often faced by rape victims and to draw global attention to the use of rape as a tactic of war. Congolese women’s activist Nita Vielle commented to CNN,”they have had enough…enough of the war, of the rape, of nobody paying attention to what’s happening to them.” World March of Women representative, Celia Alldridge, told CNN, “it’s just great to have so many women out on the streets. We believe that women should not be made prisoners in their own homes.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been named the “rape capital of the world” by the United Nations. According to CNN, there were 15,000 women raped by armed rebel groups in eastern Congo in 2009. Between July 30 and August 2 of this year alone, more than 300 people, mostly women, were raped in the country’s North Kivu province. The United Nations has condemned the lack of civilian protection provided by Congolese police, military, and UN stabilization forces in the area. Since the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo began in 1998, tens of thousands of civilians have been raped.

http://www.msmagazine.com/news/uswirestory.asp?ID=12679

See also: British women march in The Democratic Republic of Congo in solidarity with Congolese women, issue call for end to violence

Women can’t stop rape. We’ve been trying for decades.

From the early days of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminists have launched anti-rape campaigns. But, while rape crisis centres continue to promote the message that rape is not a women’s issue – rather it’s a social problem that can only be rectified by a change in the male mentality into one that acknowledges men’s power to stop rape – few people seem to be listening.

In Australia, we’ve seen evidence of male sexual violence inherent in Rugby League and several elite boys colleges, while in Canada, photos of the gang rape of a teenage girl were posted to Facebook.

According to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, one in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life. Seventy per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, such as a family member, friend or workmate. Of the remaining 30 per cent of sexual assaults most are committed by a person the victim meets socially or goes out on a date with. For one in 10 adult women who are sexually assaulted the perpetrator will be their current or past intimate partner.

Why these men believe it’s ok to rape or sexually assault a woman or girl is bound up in conceptions of gender normativity and the imbalance of power between men and women that flows from such assumptions: Masculinity is associated with dominance and virility while femininity is deemed passive. Men’s sexual prowess is regarded as something ‘natural’, while women’s sexuality must be controlled.

One of the negative outcomes of the current obsession with ‘raunch culture’ is the slut-shaming of women and girls who dare to be sexual – sometimes with many different partners; who dare to explore their sexuality and desires – sometimes in public.

A recent example is the ThinkUKnow campaign created by the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and developed by the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia. While its motives may be honourable – protecting young people from unwanted images of themselves being distributed without their consent – the delivery is not. A short video, ‘Megans Story’ shows a teenage girl walking into class happy and confident after ‘sexting’ her boyfriend. Her confidence turns to shame and humiliation as the sext is forwarded to her classmates and teacher, and she runs out of the room in tears. The message is clear: If a boy behaves inappropriately (by forwarding a private sext of his girlfriend), the girl is to blame, not him.

This is a spin-off of the victim-blaming mentality that says a woman was ‘asking’ to be raped because of what she was wearing, or because she left a party with a group of men.

When are we going to see a prolific national campaign to educate boys and men that it’s their responsibility for not raping or sexually assaulting girls or women? When is it going to become a mandatory part of the school curriculum to teach boys from a young age that it’s not ok grab a girl’s breasts or genitals unless she explicitly gives permission? When are we as a society going to redefine what ‘makes a man’ and reject the hyper-masculine qualities that see women violated sexually as an activity that bonds ‘real’ men together?

Let’s be clear: The rape of women by men is not about men’s uncontrolled lust – it’s about power and domination that stems from fear and hatred of the female and the feminine.

On 29 October national Reclaim the Night rallies will be held across Australia and other parts of the world in which women march through the streets to protest against men’s sexual violence. These events first took place internationally in 1976 and the fact they still need to happen today is a sad indictment of men’s refusal to acknowledge and use their power to stop rape.

Some men have made an effort in this area, such as Men Can Stop Rape, an international organisation that aims to redefine masculinity by mobilising men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women, but they are few and far between.

By and large, preventing rape is still put on women’s shoulders. Well-meaning college campuses distribute advice to female students on how to avoid being sexually assaulted: don’t get drunk or stoned, don’t leave a party with a group of guys or alone, carry a whistle. The problem is, it’s all about controlling women’s behaviours, not those of men.

A Facebook friend recently circulated a document that turns the tables and offers “100 per cent foolproof tips to prevent rape/sexual assault”. It includes helpful suggestions to potential rapists such as: “Use the buddy system: if you are not able to stop yourself assaulting someone, ask a friend to stay with you when you are in public” or “When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!”

Facetious as some of the advice may be, it’s a stark reminder that there is only one way to stop rape: Don’t do it.

——————————————————————
Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger

http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s3025399.htm

The United Nations is launching a campaign to combat the rape of Haitian earthquake victims living in camps for the homeless, the U.N.’s top official in the country has said.

Edmund Mulet, who heads the U.N. stabilization mission in the country, told the 15-member Security Council that police and soldiers in the U.N.’s peacekeeping force are being trained how to handle rape and other sexual violence at the camps, and to ensure medical care for victims. He said a public relations campaign is under way to teach people how to prevent and respond to rape and other sexual attacks.

“I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence,” Mulet said, describing actions taken since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a report on Haiti last month.

Mulet said that a 200-member U.N. police force keeps a permanent presence in six especially high-risk camps housing 135,000 people, but that it’s impossible to regularly patrol all the camps.

More than 1.3 million Haitians were displaced by the January quake, and many remain homeless, living in camps where women and children are vulnerable to attack.

Mulet also said that the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections must be “credible and legitimate” to ensure security in the still-fragile Caribbean nation.

“Institutional weakness, combined with the displaced persons’ camps, the resurgence of gang activity and the characteristic instability of the Haitian electoral season, contribute to creating a volatile security environment,” he said.

Sexual attacks at the camps have been a concern since shortly after the magnitude-7 temblor ravaged the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished and least developed country, and killed an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.

The U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 soldiers and police deployed nationwide, is charged with maintaining stability and security in Haiti during reconstruction. The force has been in Haiti since mid-2004 after then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid widespread unrest.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States remains concerned about vulnerable people in the camps and said that efforts to stop sexual and gender-based violence “must be part of a wider effort to empower women throughout the reconstruction process.”

Rice called the U.N.’s progress toward preparing security for the November elections “positive” and said “peaceful and credible elections and the transfer of power to a new government will be key milestones of Haiti’s progress.”

Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham also praised peacekeepers’ efforts to ensure electoral security, and said it was critical that the Haitian National Police be involved.

The U.N. force “must continue to do its utmost to aid the development of local policing capabilities” so that the Haitian police force no longer relies on U.N. troops “as the main providers of security” in the country.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ignoWPp8ii9QM00GkQOpCZTzO0CwD9I7AIA00

The authors of a new book, Half the Sky, say the slavery and abuse of women is the greatest moral outrage of our century

In it, they argue that the world is in the grip of a massive moral outrage no less egregious in scale or in the intensity of despair than the African slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries or the genocides of the 20th. They believe this outrage is a key factor behind many of the most pressing economic and political issues today, from famine in Africa to Islamist terrorism and climate change. Yet they say the phenomenon is largely hidden, invisible to most of us and passing relatively unreported. At worst it is actively tolerated; at best it is ignored.

The fodder of this latterday trade in human suffering is not African people, but women. Which is why they call it “gendercide”. If the supreme moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery, and of the 20th century the fight against totalitarianism, then, they write, “in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world”.

The contention is as startling as the idea of a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist buying up prostitutes. I put it to them that, to some people, the claim will seem overblown. After all, you don’t go lightly comparing the plight of women in developing countries today with slavery or, by implication, the Holocaust.

“This idea is a couple of decades in gestation,” Kristof says. “Over those years, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that this really is the greatest moral challenge of this century.”

“When you hear that 60 to 100 million females are missing in the current population, we thought that number compares in the scope and size. And then you compare the slave trade at its peek in the 1780s, when there were 80,000 slaves transported from Africa to the New World, and you see there are now 10 times that amount of women trafficked across international borders, so you start to think you are talking about comparable weight.”

Yet this huge injustice was going on under their noses, largely unreported, dismissed as “women’s issues” by the mainstream media. “We’ve thought a lot about the failure to see this,” says WuDunn. “Partly, it’s because the news is defined by what happens on a particular day, and a lot of the most important things in the world don’t happen on a particular day . . .”

“And it’s partly that our definition of what constitutes news is a legacy of the perspective of middle-aged men,” adds Kristof. “It may well be that one major reason why high-school girls drop out of school around the world is that they have trouble managing menstruation, and probably one reason nobody has cottoned on to this is that people who run aid organisations and write about it have never menstruated.”
At the end of the book, in similar vein, they give a list of action points that readers can take within 10 minutes to make a difference. And they set us a personal challenge: will we join a historical movement to eradicate sex slavery, honour killings and acid attacks, or are we content to remain detached bystanders? It is the 21st-century equivalent of that ultimately probing 20th-century question: “What did you do in the war, Daddy?”

Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/aug/19/women-slavery-half-the-sky

NB Some women’s groups have pointed out the use of photographs by the authors of women who have suffered violence are an unnecessary intrusion

The number of assaults is twice that previously reported in the country’s east, Atul Khare told the UN Security Council.

Aid workers who reached a village captured by rebels in late July found that 242 women and children had been raped in the course of four days.

A unit of two dozen armed UN peacekeepers stationed less than 20 miles away did nothing to stop the assaults.

“While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly we have also failed,” Mr Khare, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said after returning from a trip to eastern Congo.

“Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.”

The UN’s mission in Congo, MONUSCO, is its largest and most expensive in the world, but has regularly been criticised for being ineffective, weak and badly managed.

Peacekeepers have in the past been sent home after they were accused of sexual abuse of children in areas they are supposed to be protecting.

The UN had earlier said that it was not aware of the most recent attacks until after Congolese and Rwandan rebels had left Luvungi town, despite running at least one patrol there while the attacks were ongoing.

But emails reportedly sent between the UN’s humanitarian office, other UN agencies and aid organisations allegedly alerted officials to the rebel takeover, and of at least one rape.

Ban Ki-moon expressed his “outrage” at the attacks and dispatched Mr Khare to investigate last week.

During his visit, the chief peacekeeper found reports of the mass rape or sexual violence against at least another 267 people, including men and children.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo’s two decade civil war, which was supposed to have ended with a peace deal in 2003.

But violence continues as armed groups battle for control of lucrative mines producing metals vital for consumer electronics, including mobile phones, laptops and games consoles.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/democraticrepublicofcongo/7989198/UN-peacekeepers-failed-to-stop-500-Dr-Congo-rapes.html

“Six months after the earthquake in Haiti, we see a continued crisis of safety and security in the displacement camps that has exacerbated the already grave problem of sexual violence. In May and June, MADRE joined delegations coordinated by the Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN) to Haiti to investigate the problem of rape and other gender-based violence in the camps. We found that women are being raped at an alarming rate-every day-in camps throughout Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Government, the UN and others in the international community have failed to adequately address the situation. Women, especially poor women, have been excluded from full participation and leadership in the relief effort.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), MADRE, TransAfrica Forum and the Universities of Minnesota and Virginia law schools released this Report, Our Bodies Are Still Trembling: Haitian Women’s Fight Against Rape. The report aims to bring to light the crisis and guide governments, international organizations and other stakeholders in providing for even more effective protection and promotion of women’s human rights in Haiti.”

To access the report, please click on this link http://www.madre.org/images/uploads/misc/1283377138_2010.07.26%20-%20HAITI%20GBV%20REPORT%20FINAL.pdf

For further information, please visit MADRE http://www.madre.org/index.php

From http://www.awid.org/eng/Women-in-Action/New-Resources/A-New-Report-MADRE-Our-Bodies-Are-Still-Trembling-Haitian-Women-s-Fight-Against-Rape

Forensic Exams Should Respect Survivors’ Rights to Health, Privacy, and Dignity

Many Indian hospitals routinely subject rape survivors to forensic examinations that include the unscientific and degrading “finger” test, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. It urged the Indian government to ban the practice, used to determine whether the rape survivor is “habituated” to sexual intercourse, as it reforms its laws on sexual violence.

The 54-page report, “Dignity on Trial: India’s Need for Sound Standards for Conducting and Interpreting Forensic Examinations of Rape Survivors” documents the continued use of the archaic practice and the continued reliance on the “results” by many defense counsel and courts. The practice, described in outdated medical jurisprudence textbooks used by many doctors, lawyers, and judges, involves a doctor inserting fingers in a rape victim’s vagina to determine the presence or absence of the hymen and the so-called “laxity” of the vagina. These findings perpetuate false and damaging stereotypes of rape survivors as “loose” women. Defense attorneys use the findings to challenge the credibility, character, and the lack of consent of the survivors.

“This test is yet another assault on a rape survivor, placing her at risk of further humiliation,” said Aruna Kashyap, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Indian government should heed demands of Indian activists to abolish this degrading and useless practice.”

Finger test findings are scientifically baseless because an “old tear” of the hymen or variation of the “size” of the hymenal orifice can be due to reasons unrelated to sex. Carried out without informed consent, the test would constitute an assault, and is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment, Human Rights Watch said.

“I was so scared and nervous and praying all the time: ‘God, let this be over and let me get out of here fast,” the report quotes one rape survivor as saying as she described her experience of a forensic examination.

The Indian government amended its evidence law in 2003 to prohibit cross-examination of survivors based on their “general immoral character.” The Indian Supreme Court, whose decisions are binding, has described opinions based on the finger test as “hypothetical and opinionative,” and has ruled that they cannot be used against a rape survivor.

Although these developments have helped curtail the practice, the Indian government has yet to take steps to ensure that all states eliminate it. There are no nationwide guidelines or programs to standardize forensic examinations and to train and sensitize doctors, police, prosecutors, and judges to survivors’ rights. But the Indian government is currently reviewing laws regarding sexual violence, presenting a unique opportunity for change.

“The Indian government has paid little attention to how health care and forensic services are delivered to survivors of sexual violence,” Kashyap said. “The Indian government should set right this injustice with a comprehensive policy and program for such services.”

The report is based on 44 interviews in Mumbai and Delhi with activists, rape survivors and their parents, prosecutors, other lawyers, judges, doctors, and forensic experts. Research also included a review of forensic examination templates used in those cities, and an analysis of 153 High Court judgments on rape that referred to the finger test findings from 18 states. It finds that the finger test-related information continues to be collected and used.

Forensic examinations are a harrowing experience for many rape survivors, who are shunted from one hospital or ward to another for various aspects of the examination. Often doctors insist that the survivor must make a police complaint when she approaches them directly, which can intimidate her. Further, inserting fingers into the vaginal or anal orifice of an adult or child survivor of sexual violence during a forensic examination can cause additional trauma, as it not only mimics the abuse but can also be painful. Some doctors in India conduct the finger test with little or no regard for a survivor’s pain or trauma, Human Rights Watch found.

Many High Court judgments reveal that doctors have testified in court that having one or two fingers inserted into the vagina is “painful” or “very painful” for the survivor. And when the survivor did not experience any pain – if two fingers could be inserted “painlessly” or “easily” – then she was described as being “habituated to sex.”

“Survivors of sexual violence have the right to legal recourse without being further traumatized in the process,” Kashyap said. “The health and criminal justice systems should work together to ensure that they do not perpetuate damaging stereotypes of survivors.”

The Maharashtra and Delhi governments continue to recommend the finger test in their forensic examination templates. For example, as recently as June 2010, the Maharashtra state government introduced a standard forensic examination template that includes a series of questions about the hymen, including the number of fingers that can be admitted into the hymenal orifice.

Early this year, the Delhi government introduced a forensic examination template that asks questions about the hymen, including whether it is “intact” or “torn,” the “size of the hymenal orifice,” whether the vagina is “roomy” or “narrow” and has “old tears,” and even asks the examining doctor to give an opinion whether the survivor was “habituated to sex.” Much of the Delhi template resembles a template created by the Indian Medical Association and disseminated to doctors across the country between 2006 and 2008.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence” recommends that health care and forensic services be provided at the same time, and by the same person, to reduce the potential for duplicating questions and further traumatizing the survivor of sexual assault. It states that health and welfare of a survivor of sexual violence is “the overriding priority” and that forensic services should not take precedence over health needs. It also says forensic examinations should be minimally invasive to the extent possible and that even a purely clinical procedure such as a bimanual examination (which also involves the insertion of two fingers into the vagina) is rarely medically necessary after sexual assault.

The Indian government should use its ongoing reform process for laws relating to sexual violence to prohibit the finger test and standardize the medical treatment and forensic examinations of survivors of sexual violence in line with the rights to health, privacy, dignity, and legal remedy, Human Rights Watch said. The government should introduce special programs to sensitize doctors, police, prosecutors, and judges to the rights of survivors, and set up multidisciplinary teams in every government hospital with doctors trained to be sensitive to survivors and with training and equipment to conduct forensic examinations in a manner that respects survivors’ rights.

Part of a longer press release at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/09/06/india-prohibit-degrading-test-rape