August 25, 2019 | 70° F

SINGH: Need for global shift toward gender justice


Opinions Column: Here's to Your Health


The #MeToo movement worked against sexual harassment as well as sexual assault. The movement went viral in October 2017, making waves internationally while shedding light on the ubiquitous prevalence of sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace. Although this movement made mass news, it unfortunately has not been enough to completely eradicate sexual assault. Amnesty International is a human rights, non-governmental organization, based in the U.K. The organization has more than 7 million members worldwide and recently analyzed rape legislation in 31 European countries. Based on the study, only eight countries — Cyprus, Ireland, Belgium, the U.K., Iceland, Germany, Sweden and Luxembourg — define rape based on consent. Simply put, sex without consent is defined as rape. Correct? 

The tragic reality is that many European countries do not follow the same definition even though the prevalence of rape is monumental. The vast majority of the other countries in Europe only acknowledge rape if there is physical violence or coercion, while other countries categorize sex without consent as an unrelated and minor offense. The problem with defining rape without the mention of "lack of consent" is that it only helps perpetuate the idea in which sex is something that should be taken rather than given. It is reported that in the EU (European Union), 1 in 20 women have been raped after the age of 15, which results in approximately 9 million women being affected. Even more frightening is the fact that 1 in 10 females in the EU have been survivors of some sort of sexual violence after the age of 15. 

The European Commission does surveys to receive public consensus through its Eurobarometer reports. The Gender-Based Violence report indicates that approximately one-third (27 percent) of EU citizens truly believe that non-consensual sex can be justified in particular situations. Of the 27 percent, 12 percent believe rape is justified if the woman is intoxicated through drugs or alcohol. Eleven percent believe in justification if the woman went home with someone, 10 percent believe it is justified if the woman verbally failed to say no or failed to fend off herself. Another 10 percent believe rape is justified if the woman was wearing revealing clothing, while 7 percent believe it was warranted if she was walking home alone at night. Fourteen percent believe it is ratified if the woman flirted with the perpetrator before it happened or if she has had multiple sexual partners in the past. Of the remaining 6 percent, 4 percent believe rape can be justified if the attacker claims they were not aware of what they were doing and the last 2 percent believe in warranted rape if the attacker claims they regret their actions after the incident. 

These statistics are severely dangerous as they indicate the deep-rooted presence of the conventional ideology of victim-blaming. These countries need to implement serious reform. Weak legislation makes it hard to guarantee a fair trial which in turn makes it harder for survivors to come forward. According to the Amnesty report, the U.K. is in the top five countries for highest number of recorded sexual assaults. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of rape convictions plummeted 23 percent, which was great news upon first sight. But, upon closer look, it was revealed that these numbers are not an accurate depiction of the truth, as U.K. prosecutors have been goaded to disregard the “weak cases" to help excel the country's annual conviction statistics. The importance of having a strong, trusting government-citizen relationship cannot be emphasized enough. If the government cannot help its citizens or, like in this situation, simply trivializes its people's problems, then it is no longer serving its purpose. 

“Laws have the power to enable justice and influence attitudes. Time and again, surveys show that many people still believe it’s not rape when the victim is drunk, wearing revealing clothes or not physically fighting back. Sex without consent is rape, full stop. Until governments bring their legislations in line with this simple fact, the perpetrators of rape will continue to get away with their crimes,” said Anna Błuś, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Western Europe and Women's Rights. 

The number of EU sexual assault cases is alarmingly high and violates the health and safety of its people. This is also a major humans rights issue that no longer should be a problem in this day and age. The fact that 9 million women have been victims in the EU alone is problematic. The antiquated roots of misogyny are still prevalent today and while many are aware, not enough is being done to eliminate it. There is still much stigma attached to such cases and survivors either do not trust the justice system or fear not being believed, thus many rape cases go unreported. There is only so much survivors can do at their own personal level. They need the justice system's complete and unwavering support to finally end the perpetuation of sexual assault. How many more people must hurt and suffer for there to be justice?

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Harleen Singh

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