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.

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.
 

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

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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To the Commonwealth, "Global Britain" sounds like nostalgia for something else

And the former colonial subjects have a less rose-tinted view of the past. 

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson became the first British foreign secretary to visit the Gambia since independence. His visit came a few days before the inauguration of the Gambia's new President, Adama Barrow, who has signalled his intention to re-join the Commonwealth - an institution that his dictatorial predecessor had left in protest at its apparent "neo-colonialism".

Accusations of neo-colonialism, regrettably, seem to be of little concern to the foreign secretary. After Johnson committed himself to facilitating the Gambia's Commonwealth re-entry, he declared that "the strength of our partnerships show that Global Britain is growing in influence and activity around the world". 

His comments are the latest example of the government's Brexit mission-creep in its foreign engagements. Theresa May mentioned "Global Britain" no fewer than ten times in her Lancaster House speech last month, reminding us that Britain "has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world" and emphasising the UK's post-referendum desire to "get out into the world". Ministers' repeated subsequent referencing of Global Britain has almost come to the point of re-branding Great Britain itself. But now the government seems to be directly equating Global Britain with the Commonwealth, the organisation comprising most of the former territories of the British Empire. If the Commonwealth is wooing back former members and seemingly growing in stature, that must mean Global Britain is doing the same. The Gambia's proposed re-admission to the Commonwealth is reconfigured as a victory for British clout and prestige in the face of the Brexit naysayers.

But the Commonwealth cannot be a vehicle or front for Global Britain, on either a technical or political level. The Commonwealth emphasises that it is an organisation of 52 equal member states, without any preference in decision-making. India (population 1.26bn) and Tuvalu (10,000) are treated the same. The organisation is headquartered in London, receives the most money from Britain, and its members share elements of history, culture and political systems; but it is not a British organisation and will not take orders from the British government. Commonwealth states, particularly poorer ones, may welcome UK political, financial and developmental support, but will reject the spectre of neo-imperialism. Diplomats remark that their countries did not leave the British Empire only to re-join it through the back door. 

And yet, shorn of influence following the decision to leave the EU, and the single market so instrumental to British jobs and prosperity, the government is desperate to find an alternative source of both power and profit. The members of the Commonwealth, with their links of heritage and administration, have always been touted as the first choice. Leading Brexiter Dan Hannan has long advocated a "union with the other English-speaking democracies", and Liam Fox has been actively pursuing Commonwealth countries for trade deals. But the Commonwealth cannot replace the EU in any respect. While exports to the EU account for just under a half of Britain's total, the Commonwealth receives less than 10 percent of our goods. The decline of UK trade with the Commonwealth was taking place long before Britain joined the EU, and it has in fact revived in recent years while being a member. The notion that Britain is restricted from trading with the Commonwealth on account of its EU membership is demonstrably false.  

The EU, the beloved scapegoat for so many ills, cannot fulfil the role for much longer. Indeed, when it comes to the Commonwealth, 48 of the 52 members have already completed trade deals with the UK, or are in the process of negotiating them, as part of their engagement with the EU. Britain could now be forced to abandon and re-negotiate those agreements, to the great detriment of both itself and the Commonwealth. Brexiters must moreover explain why Germany, with a population just 25 percent larger than ours, exports 133 percent more to India and 250 percent more to South Africa than we do. Even New Zealand, one of Britain's closest allies and a forthcoming trade-deal partner, imports 44 percent more goods and services from Germany, despite enjoying far looser cultural and historical ties with that country. The depth of Britain's traditional bonds with the Commonwealth cannot, in itself, boost the British economy. The empire may fill the imagination, but not a spreadsheet.

The British imperial imagination, however, is the one asset guaranteed to keep growing as Brexit approaches. It is, indeed, one of the root causes of Brexit. Long after the empire fell into history, the British exceptionalism it fostered led us to resent our membership of a European bloc, and resist even limited integration with it. The doctrine of "taking back control" for an "independent Britain" speaks to profound (and unfounded) anxieties about being led by others, when in our minds we should be the ones explicitly leading. The fictional, if enduringly potent victim narrative that we became a colony of someone else's empire, has now taken hold in government. The loss of our own empire remains an unacknowledged national trauma, which we both grieve and fail to accept. The concept of being equal partners with like-minded countries, in a position to exert real, horizontal influence through dialogue, cooperation and shared membership of institutions, is deemed an offence to Britain's history and imperial birthright.

The relentless push for Global Britain is thus both a symptom and cause of our immense global predicament. Through an attempt to increase our power beyond Europe, Brexit has instead deflated it. Britain has, in truth, always been global, and the globe has not always been grateful for it; but now the government preaches internationalism while erecting trade barriers and curbing migration. After empire, Britain found a new role in Europe, but with that now gone, Global Britain risks producing global isolation. Despite the foreign secretary's rhetoric, the Commonwealth, geopolitically and economically, has moved on from its imperial past. It is not waiting to be re-taken.

Jonathan Lis is the deputy director at British Influence.