A new study released this week is leading investigators to believe that sexual assault is more common than previously thought. According to the Lancet, 7.2 percent of women worldwide have experienced sexual assault by someone other than an intimate partner. The research was conducted in part because of certain highly publicized cases in South Africa and India, which brought international attention to the issue. The authors of the report caution that while it is tempting to see sexual assault as random or isolated event, it is actually more common. In fact, they add, that in some areas of the globe sexual violence against women is a daily reality.
In the study, researchers found that the number of sexual assaults in the Middle East, and Africa, were lower than the rest of the world. However, since many Middle East and African nations come under sharia law the reporting could be a lot lower. In Maldives recently a fourteen year old girl was raped by her stepfather and then sentenced to forty lashes for fornication. The Maldivian President also overturned a law that would have made marital rape a crime, stating that it went directly against the tenants of Islam and the Koran.
Jordan which also adheres to Islamic law allows the rapist to not be prosecuted if he marries his victim. Judge Fawzi Nahar, of the Grand Criminal Court, said that this is not a common occurrence in Jordan with only about six to 12 cases a year. One study pointed out that in the last four years 159 rapist have avoided prosecution in Jordan by simply marrying their victims.
While the Lancet study only has 4.5 percent of all rapes occurring in the Middle East and North Africa, the study does admit that it is likely there is under-reporting going on. While North Africa has lower numbers of sexual assault, Sub-Saharan Africa which includes Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe this type of violence is more common than researchers previously thought. They also discovered that the Democratic Republic of Congo had 21 percent of all rapes reported.
According to the authors of this latest report another reason why the numbers were lower than expected in certain areas was simply a lack of data. In many countries researchers simply were unable to find any data at all about violence against women. This research also only looks at sexual assault by a non-partner. In some countries there are laws prohibiting a wife from telling her husband no, so marital rape is not actually considered a crime. The question asked most frequently in these types of studies is, if a woman was ever forced to perform a sexual act by someone other than her partner. This leaves out any woman who felt forced or coerced by a partner to perform a sexual act.
The under-reporting is not isolated in the Middle East. In the United Kingdom, under reporting is also taking place with some ethnic groups, according to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary. He said that with the under reporting it usually occurs over certain crimes, like honor killings, child rape, and female genital mutilation.
Until an open and honest dialog takes place, Kathryn Yount, of the Global Department of Human Health from Emory University in Georgia say’s that human rights violations will continue. The Lancet study shows not only that sexual assault is more common than previously thought, but also that further studies need to be done in order to fully understand the scope of how sexual violence affects women worldwide.
By Rachel Woodruff