101 East

It’s a man’s world

Can perpetrators of violence against women play a role in preventing it and to what extent can early intervention help?

Gang rape hit the headlines last year after the brutal attack of a woman on a bus in India’s capital, Delhi.

But new research suggests that gang rape is a wider problem across Asia – with some of the highest recorded levels of violence against women in the world to be found within the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite years of attention and millions spent on preventing it, there has been little or no measured decrease in its occurrence. And simply responding to the outcomes of violence has not been enough to end it.

For the first time, researchers have compiled cross-country data from men – those who admit to using violence against women, and those who do not. It is hoped that understanding men’s own experiences will help to target the causes of violence against women and prevent it from happening at all.

Four UN agencies interviewed 10,000 men across seven countries in the Asia-Pacific, with startling results.

One in four said they had raped a woman or girl, while one in 25 admitted to taking part in gang rape.

Men say they start raping early, often in their teenage years and are frequently motivated by sexual entitlement. While the rates of violence are shocking, the variations between countries is giving hope to those working on programmes to prevent violence and rape, because it demonstrates that early intervention can make a difference.

The research confirmed that there is no single cause of violence, but a complex interplay of factors related to individual experiences, community norms, and societal elements.

101 East travels to Cambodia, a country representing some of the highest levels of rape in the region, to speak with men themselves about why they commit these crimes and to find out if the perpetrators can trigger new ideas for prevention.

Producer’s blog: Facing a gang rapist

By Aela Callan

I stared at him for a long time and he stared back. I was not going to be the first one to look away. He is 31, married, with two daughters. He told me that his wife does not know that he likes to lure young women into going out with him, so that he and his friends can rape them.

It was a balmy evening on the busy river promenade in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, not the place that I had envisaged meeting a confessed gang rapist. Against this pretty, very public backdrop, he was detailing acts so horrific that I had to ask the translator two, three, even four times if I understood correctly.  

We had reached the end of the interview and the length of the stare between us became uncomfortable – very uncomfortable. Then he looked away for a second, and his bravado evaporated. To me, he seemed almost pitiful.  

Perhaps with the exception of this man, none of the gang rapists I spoke to during the filming of the 101 East programme It’s a man’s world, struck me as especially evil people. They were just ordinary men. Some had slight physical disabilities, seemed a bit socially awkward and a little lonely, but above all else they wanted to fit in with their friends, even if it was at the expense of women.   

“What are they like?” A friend of mine asked when she contacted me during the filming of this difficult story, “Are they like a pack of rabid dogs?” While many would like to think that gang rapists are in some way psychopathic, they are actually just like other men. They have mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, girlfriends and every one of them told me they would not want the same thing to happen to the women in their own families.  

So how is it that any man can justify this kind of behaviour towards a woman in someone else’s family? What has gone so wrong that one in five men, across Asia, rapes a woman or girl, in his lifetime? How can it be that one in 25 admits to taking part in gang rape? Those are the shocking statistics from a joint project by four UN agencies on men’s perpetration of violence against women across Asia and the Pacific.  

The reasons men say they rape are complex. The majority feel sexually entitled, but in Cambodia which has one of the highest rates of gang rape, anger, punishment and fun featured more prominently as reasons than in other countries. Interestingly, alcohol played less of a role than many previously thought.

In December 2012, a horrific gang rape on a bus in Delhi led to the victim’s death and sparked global outrage. But more than twice the percentage of men in Cambodia admitted to gang rape compared to India (post-conflict sites in the Pacific are likely to be even higher). 

That is not to say that gang rape is more common in Asia than in the rest of the world – it is just that no-one has done the research yet. People did not think that they could ask men these questions. I, for one, was shocked that men were willing to speak to me about this at all, let alone with a camera rolling. But they were. In fact, men are far more likely to admit carrying out a rape or gang rape, than a victim is to report it. Perpetration, it seems, does not carry the same stigma as being a victim.

Millions of dollars are spent each year trying to prevent violence against women, but few countries have managed to significantly decrease its occurrence. Governments and NGOs have been busy tackling the problem with a focus on women’s experiences as victims. Of course, the resources do need to go to victims. But it is now clear that men also need to play a role in prevention, as perpetrators and as victims themselves.

Sixty-five percent of men in Cambodia had experienced violence as children; 16 percent reported sexual abuse. This is not to say that all victims go on to be perpetrators, most of them do not, but this is a huge area of unmet needs. Of the hundreds of NGOs in Cambodia working on sexual crime, trafficking, violence and sexual abuse – only four have meaningful programmes targeting men and boys.

It sounds odd to say that the good news for Cambodia is that 52 percent of men raped for the first time when they were teenagers – more than 15 percent were under 15. Disturbing as this is, it is evidence that working with boys could make a remarkable difference. 

“If one in five men rape, that means four in five don’t,” UN Researcher, Dr Emma Fulu told me. “And we need to work with those men as well, to find out what it is that can stop this kind of behaviour. What won’t work, is to simply demonise men.”  

Some of the men I spoke to in Cambodia are showing leadership in this regard. They told me how hard it is to counteract the huge influence of peer pressure. How they themselves had been taunted as young men for refusing to join gang rape. They now lead social programmes, research projects and speak out in the media. In Cambodia, they say there is a cultural reluctance to speak to young men and boys about sex, leading to the development of unhealthy sexual relationships and damaging ideas.

For instance, some young men believe rape is more acceptable than masturbation. Violent pornography or violence in the home has become a manual for young men who have no other good role models.  

Then, there is the effect of civil war. These are the sons and grandsons of people who suffered through the unimaginable horrors of the Khmer Rouge. This exposure to extreme violence, as well as the absence of positive influences and effective parenting practices, may have in some way warped perceptions of what it means to be a man.

Preventing rape is everyone’s business in every country around the world. Communities and families need to demonstrate healthy relationships, as much as governments need to have laws and proper enforcement.  But most importantly, men themselves need to show boys healthy alternatives. Being a man is not just about being tough, it is also about being respectful, being empathetic and being kind.

Rape is a difficult topic to talk about. It makes most people squeamish, preferring to change the subject. Like an elongated stare into the face of a gang rapist, it will be uncomfortable. But continuing to turn away, simply because it is too awful to understand, is silent consent.

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