The ‘why’ of violence against women


The Washington Post

Over the past year, I’ve written a number of stories about rape victims. There was the 23-year-old Indian student brutally gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi, who died as the result of her attack.

Her case was in the news again last week. Four of the men who attacked her, convicted of rape and murder, were sentenced to death by hanging.

There’s Rehtaeh Parsons in Canada and Audrie Pott in California, both of whom committed suicide after the ordeal of their rapes. There’s the West Virginia high school student who was raped by two football players in Steubenville, Ohio.

And, of course, there are the three young women kidnapped and held hostage for years by Ariel Castro, who didn’t last much more than a month in prison before he was found hanged in his cell.

My interest in writing these stories may stem from the fact that I have three friends whose daughters were raped. Each case was different, although each was raped by someone she knew. Two ended up pregnant; one is raising her child, the other gave her baby up for adoption. One still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anorexia.

I have to wonder: Why do men rape? How can they do this to women? We’ve been told it’s not a crime of passion but of violence. It’s not about sex but about power and control.

And is it as common as it seems?

So, of course, I find the results fascinating — and staggering — and depressing — from the massive U.N.-sponsored study looking at the causes and prevalence of rape in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea. Part of that research was published last week in The Lancet Global Health.

Obviously the study’s results don’t reflect American culture, and the researchers stress that their findings are from just six countries and should not be used to make generalizations even about all of Asia.

Yet the results are enlightening and may help us all better understand violence against women.

Some 10,000 men were questioned, although the word “rape” was never used. Instead, they were asked if they’d ever had sex with a woman against her will or with someone too drunk or drugged to agree (or perhaps disagree). Which, of course, is what rape is, yet too many people fail to understand that sex without consent is rape, and a girl passed out at a party cannot give her consent.

“Rape doesn’t just involve someone with a gun to a woman’s head,” Michele Decker, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-author of a commentary that accompanied the study, told CBS News.

Nearly one in 10 of the men in the study has raped a woman, but that figure jumps to one in four if you include wives and girlfriends among the victims.

The results varied widely from region to region, with the highest numbers in Papua New Guinea and the lowest in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Why did these men force women to have sex with them? More than 70 percent cited “sexual entitlement” as the reason for rape. They simply believe they have the right to have sex with any women, whether she agrees or not. I can’t help but wonder if that sense of entitlement is responsible for some of the rapes in this country, especially when considering the culture surrounding high school and college athletes.

Nearly 60 percent said they had raped for entertainment because they were bored or seeking some “fun.” Theirs, obviously, and not the woman’s. About 40 percent of men blamed punishment or anger for their sexual assaults on women. (The men could give more than one reason so the results don’t add up to 100 percent.)

Rape began early for many of these men; half of those who had raped were just teenagers the first time. Four percent of them had participated in a gang rape. Almost half of the men had used either physical or sexual violence against their wife or girlfriend.

Few of the men had faced punishment for their acts against women. Anywhere from 72 to 90 percent of the men questioned never suffered any legal consequences at all.

As expected, men who were violent toward women were more likely to have been the victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse themselves as children, or to have watched their mothers suffer abuse. Many also live in poverty or are poorly educated. It’s no excuse, but knowing these contributing factors can lead to change.

That’s the ultimate goal of the research: To figure out how to change behavior. Researchers wrote in a statement that accompanied the study, “The challenge now is to turn evidence into action, to create a safer future for the next generation of women and girls.”

It means changing cultural attitudes and beliefs, like that of a man from Bangladesh quoted in the report’s summary:

“If I am angry, I prefer to teach her [his wife] an instant lesson,” he said. “If she disobeys, she must be punished. That is not wrong at all.”

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kansas. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

  • Dora Lorenzana

    Thank you for your article, I found it real interesting. I think you touched on something real important, ” too many people fail to understand that sex without consent is rape.” I think this hit the nail on the head; the word “rape” is still misunderstood globally. I think the behavior that leads a person to rape, is so embedded and accepted in our global culture (for example, entitlement) that when the rapist finally rapes, the idea to call it out sends mixed messages to everyone. I think to really understand the concept of rape, the behavior of the rapist would need to be traced back way before the act of rape was ever committed.

  • Dipak Bose

    The Prolem is caused by a demographic prolem. More and more children are being born in poor households. They are deprived and as a result they take revenge on girls who are comparatively better off. Some kind of compulsary family planning for the poor households is needed.
    The second prolem is we have killed many many animals, who possibly are being reborn as human in physical sense but animals otherwise. They have no control over their sences. Death sentence for any kind of rape is the answer.

  • “Why do men rape? How can they do this to women?”

    Probably for the same reason that women rape.

    Did you know that men are the majority of American rape victims?

    • Graham Tsuno

      And did you know that the majority of rapists in the land of the free and incarcerated are male?

      Ball’s back in your court, Red.

      • The number of incarcerations do not equal the number of perpetrators.

        You would have been a useful idiot during the female rape victim shaming of the 50’s. “I don’t see many men in prison for rape, it must not be happening.”.

    • Jordan

      The vast majority of men raped are raped by other men, not women. The vast majority of rape/sexual assault of men, women, and children are committed by men.

    • WednesdaysKatz

      Could you expand on this as I am unfamiliar with this concept. I know women can be guilty of child abuse and not only men also that male on male rape is more prevalent than people realise as it mostly goes unreported as men don’t want to talk about it or admit it has happened to them as they often feel ashamed.

      • Sure, you are on the right track. Thank you for asking a question.

        Women once had a culture of shame about rape. There were cultural incentives to not come forward because of what it would A) do to her value to others and B)to the reputation of those involved.

        Part of that twisted outlook was based on religion’s hold on morality, which upheld virginity as an intrinsic value, that once lost, made her “broken goods” for any suitor. Women were primarily (socially) valued for their looks and purity, and men were valued for their utility/power (to women).

        When feminism came along and identified men as subjugators of women, they failed to realize that both genders were trapped by crippling social roles; women to be in the home, offer sex and babies, and men to provide, protect, and die for her, if needed. What was left unidentified is that the cause, the enemy, is a particular code of ethical ideas — not gender.

        While women have largely been freed from their previous roles (whatever they have chosen to do with that freedom notwithstanding), men have continued to be stuck in theirs. A culture of male shaming is alive and well. For men, the female value of virginity is replaced by the male value of pride, where if a man were to admit being raped he is to admit his own weakness. Just as a women admitting to rape so many years ago was taking a self-destructive act by diminishing her social value, a man takes a self-destructive act in a similar fashion by diminishing his. Such are the current incentives as they are.

        Combine that with a culture that generally views male rape by women as something excusable or even desirable (“Niiiiceee”) and men are told that they should have enjoyed it, or be grateful or that it wasn’t so bad. Men who step forward are not told like the women of old that ,”They asked for it.” but are laughed at and their masculinity is mocked, achieving the same end. That’s why it is no surpirse that according to the (American) National Crime Victimization Survey, less than 10% of men actually report being raped.

        A typical case of female on male gang rape:


        When we evaluate rape statistics among genders we have to bear three most important things in mind. 1) In modern Western culture men are less likely to admit it than women, 2) Men are less likely to consider that they were raped, even if they were, objectively raped, and 3) What do we mean by rape?

        According to the FBI’s newly amended definition of rape, men that non-consensually penetrate women are committing rape, but women who non-consensually envelope a man are only committing sexual assault. When many academic reports on rape define rape as “forced penetration” it necessarily excludes men from being able to be defined as victims unless the perpetrator is another man. How might that skew the statistics?

        Shockingly, when women rape men not only is it not classified as rape, and not classified as “forced envelopment” it is rather often classified as “made to penetrate”. This should inform everyone about Western cultural valuations of the male body and sex v.s the female. It’s totally sexist and portrays men as the only moral agent involved, depriving women of agency and responsibility, paving the way to victim-blaming.

        Now please observe the rush of replies my comment, all informing me that “B-b-b-b-b-b-but men are still the primary perpetrators of rape.”. I am trying to give the full context of the issue. And yet this is so unpalatable to many people on this topic that have to say something that supposedly everyone already knows. Please consider their motivations. Please consider why there is a culture of fear of female rape and violence against women, when the predominant victims of all crime from all genders are men.

        Finally, please consider that until recently men were never asked about being raped. For example, the 2010 CDC Survey on sexual assault, for all its flaws actually pursues these numbers, and it is a rarity.

        We cannot write this off as Graham Tsuno says with an illuminating, “…the majority of rapists incarcerated are male”. We also do not know that “the majority of perpetrators are men, and female on male rape is only a small minority” because we do not have lifetime numbers. We don’t have lifetime numbers because men’s “sex” is devalued culturally and no one cared to ask until recently. And, they only cared to ask recently because gay men became a culturally preferred minority, not because men as a gender are considered to be of equal value compared to women.

      • WednesdaysKatz

        Thank you for your illuminating reply, I agree with you.
        I have a particular interest in women and violence which is also a subject matter unpalatable too many due to the myth of women being the gentler sex.