New Study – Harsher Sentencing For Rape Shows Countries Less Likely To Descend Into War

Whenever governments, politicians, activists or NGOs talk about the need for gender equality, it’s important to recognize the implications of focusing on this issue are far-reaching, especially when it comes to creating legislation. In certain parts of the world where countries have been engaged in major conflict, rape of women and girls is often used as a tool of war. We have seen increased knowledge and action being taken toward creating awareness around this issue in recent years, for example the inaugural summit to end rape in conflict zones spearheaded by actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie.

The summit was designed to engage global leaders, decision-makers and NGOs with knowledge as to how they can create ways to help victims of this atrocious gender violence in the aftermath of conflict. But what happens after the war has ended? How can countries which have seen ongoing rape in times of war continue to educate their society on the horrific nature of this act? What about countries that may not be in the middle of a conflict but see a high percentage of sexual violence toward women and girls especially?

A new study conducted by the University of Kansas has shown there is incredible value in creating more stringent laws around rape. Titled ‘Outlawing Sexual Violence: Rape Law and the Likelihood of Civil War’, the research shows that when a nation moves away from outdated laws regarding rape toward a more egalitarian legislative outlook, society is more likely to be stable and less prone to descend into war.

The study was led by authors Nazli Avdan and Victor Asa who both work in the Department of Political Science analyzed rape legislation from 194 countries between 1965 and 2005, and found longer punitive sentences against rape crimes are associated with a significantly lower probability of intrastate conflict.

“The results show that gender neutrality of law whereby the penal code establishes similar sentences for female and male offenders alike also significantly decreases conflict propensity,” explained the study abstract.

Our paper finds unambiguous support for our hypothesis that countries that impose longer sentences against rape experience domestic conflict at significantly lower rates,” wrote Assistant Professor Nazli in the study.

Legislation that views the violation of a woman’s body and her autonomous rights as a criminal offense with enforceable measures can only happen in places where women are valued as equals.

“An expanding body of literature maintains that gender inequality heightens the probability of intrastate conflict by creating a structure of violence. The paper proposes the legal system as the missing link between social norms and conflict occurrence. Gender neutrality of the penal code coheres with norms of equality and, further, embodies egalitarian, progressive values associated with pacific norms of conflict resolution,” said the study.

“The criminalization of rape enhances female empowerment by offering a legal commitment on the part of the state to safeguard women’s physical security. More broadly, legal prohibitions against rape protect women and other vulnerable individuals from sexual aggression,” it continued.

Although it may seem commonplace in more developed nations to have laws that protect all genders equally, it is easy to forget the impact legislative equality can have in especially patriarchal and conservative countries where women are not afforded the same rights and protections as men. This study adds a unique angle to the argument for greater gender equality measures, showing it can be beneficial for the nation as a whole, preventing war.

“Rape legislation hones in on broader norms and principles about protection of the vulnerable. Progressive and egalitarian rape laws transmit broader societal attitudes that cohere with peaceful resolution of disputes,” the authors wrote in the study.

Scholars from other universities were positive about the study’s findings, but say the implementation of more stringent laws against rape can only really be effective in preventing war and furthering gender equality if they are fully enforced.

“The individual circumstances of women themselves will be crucial here. For example, it is likely that the ability to report will be shaped by a woman’s own socioeconomic position in society. This is something that more in-depth qualitative data may be able to draw out,” Julia Welland, assistant professor of war studies at the University of Warwick, told IBTimes UK.

In the video below, Assistant Professor Nazli Avdan does touch on the issue of a woman’s socio-economic situation, stating how education, and access to birth control, for example, can be crucial in helping a woman determine her own future and take control of her life and body.

Around the world today, rape is still seen as a cultural and social taboo in a number of complex ways. There are currently 36 countries where marital rape is still not seen as a crime. A report by Equality Now released earlier this year found there are still many countries, such as Belgium and Bahrain, where perpetrators of rape can escape punishment if they marry their victims, because it is seen as a “moral” crime, rather than a violent one. The same study also found in countries like Greece, Serbia, Russia and Thailand, perpetrators can be exempt from punishment if their victims are too young to consent.

“Our message to governments is that they should be reviewing their legislation, their laws, their policies on sexual violence to remove discrimination. They should be working with women’s organizations, with survivors organizations to do this, and only then are we going to see a world that respects the rights of women and girls,” said Antonia Kirkland, the report’s author and Equality Now’s legal manager.

Rape and sexual violence is indeed a complex problem that deserves multi-layered and nuanced solutions. The Kansas University study is but one rung on the ladder showing how tackling this problem and implementing and enforcing better legislation can lead to a better and more equal society that becomes beneficial for everyone.

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