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A quarter of men in Asia-Pacific admit rape

A UN survey of 10,000 men in Asia-Pacific reveals high levels of sexual violence in the region, and asks why rape is so common.

New Statesman
Children in Papua New Guinea, where 62 per cent of men admitted to rape. Photo: Getty

Almost a quarter of men across South East Asia and the Pacific admit to having raped a woman in their lifetime, while almost half reported having carried out physical or sexual violence against an intimate partner, a UN survey of 10,000 men across the region has found.

The incidence of both crimes varied across the six countries surveyed – Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea – but was higher in the latter. In Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, 80 per cent of men reported using sexual or physical violence against a partner, and 62 per cent said they had raped a woman or girl in their lifetime.

Across the region, 72-97 per cent of men who committed rape experienced no legal consequences, with this figure even higher for marital rape, which is not criminalised in many countries.

As well as exposing the high incidence of gender based violence across the region, by speaking to men the survey aimed to ask an under-explored question – why do men carry out these crimes? Unsurprisingly, there is no one simple answer.

70-80 per cent of male rapists said their main motivation was a sense of ‘sexual entitlement’. Around half said they did so for entertainment, and anger, punishment and finally alcohol consumption were also reported as motivations.

Men’s own experience of violence also seems to be an important factor in their future behaviour. Rates of reported emotional abuse in childhood ranged from 50 per cent in Sri Lanka to 86 per cent in Papua New Guinea, according to the survey, while six per cent of respondents in rural Indonesia and 37 per cent of men in Bangladesh had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.

Adults who experienced abuse as children were also found to have higher rates of depression, poorer health and were more likely to join gangs, be involved in fights and abuse drugs or alcohol. Men who were violent against women were also more likely to have had a large number of sexual partners and to have paid for sex.

The survey made clear that the different factors explaining sexual violence against women were inter-linked, and that they varied from country to country, so there can be no one-size-fits-all response. One of the report’s authors, Emma Fulu, a research specialist for Partners for Prevention, a regional UN programme on gender based violence, says she hopes the report’s findings will nevertheless help shape future initiatives to tackle violence against women.

“We hope to see this new knowledge used for more informed programmes and policies to end violence against women. Given the early age of violence perpetration we found among some men, we need to start working with younger boys and girls than we have in the past. We also need laws and policies that clearly express that violence against women is never acceptable, as well as policies and programmes to protect children and end the cycles of violence that extend across many people’s lives,” she says.

South East Asia was chosen for the survey because of the high rates of violence against women, but the method of exploring men’s attitudes towards violence could also be illuminating in other regions, not least in the UK where the government estimates that between 60,000-95,000 people experience rape each year, but just under 3,000 are convicted of rape annually.