Nearly one out of four men in a United Nations study of 10,000 men in Asia admitted to having committed a rape, a report released on Tuesday shows. Marital rape was by far the most common type of rape, followed by the rape of an intimate partner.

Sexual entitlement — the “belief that men were entitled to sex regardless of consent” — was the top reason men gave for committing a rape, and half of the men who admitted to rape said they had committed their first rape as teenagers. The authors of the report urged better understanding of men’s lives following the finding that childhood abuse and neglect of a man were strongly correlated with his likelihood of committing rape as an adult.

The study, ‘Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the UN Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific’ was conducted by Partners for Prevention, a regional joint programme of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Asia and the Pacific. It covered 10,000 men in nine sites in six countries - Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea.

This is the first ever multi-country survey to assess the prevalence of rape, violence against partners, and men’s reasons for committing these acts. One of the reasons the survey was able to get the kind of responses it did is likely the way the questions were framed; men were not asked directly whether they had committed rape, but were rather asked questions such as, “Have you ever forced a woman to have sex?”, or “Have you ever had sex with a woman who was too drugged or drunk to indicate whether she wanted it?”.

There was considerable variation between countries, from a rape prevalence rape of 10% in urban Bangladesh to 62% in Papua New Guinea. In south Asia (Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), nearly all the reported partner violence occurred within marriage, and physical violence was more common than sexual violence. (Marital rape is not considered to be a crime in several countries including India.)

Partner rape was far more prevalent than non-partner rape across regions, a finding that is also reflected in India’s official statistics that show that the majority of sexual assault in India is committed by persons known to the victim. Moreover, the UN study did not disaggregate the category of ‘non-partner’, the authors told The Hindu in an email, which could potentially include a friend, neighbour or acquaintance.

But all violence against women, whether it occurs in the public sphere or in the family, is still a government and police issue, Emma Fulu, Research Specialist of Partners for Prevention, and lead author of the report, told The Hindu in an email. “Changes are needed to address rape, including marital rape, from the individual to policy levels. For example the police and governments have a major role to play to ensure that adequate legislation is in place as well as comprehensive legal mechanisms to guarantee women’s effective access to justice. And this study shows that to prevent violence from occurring in the first place it is equally vital to address social norms that make violence against women acceptable, including men’s belief that they have the right to sex within marriage, and promote non-violent and caring ways to be a man,” Ms. Fulu said.

Just under half of them men who admitted to rape said that they had raped more than one woman. Between 2 and 8 per cent of men also admitted to raping another man. Most men who had raped another man had also raped a female non-partner. There was significant overlap between men who had raped another man and committed a gang rape against a woman. The study found that vast majority of men who committed rape — 72 to 97 per cent across countries — faced no legal repercussions. The report recommended ending impunity for men who rape and changing social social norms related to ‘the acceptability of violence and the subordination of women’.

Despite the high prevalence of rapes by men when they were teenagers, a research finding with resonance in India, Ms. Fulu did not advocate changing India’s juvenile laws. “It does not make sense to remove the human rights of one group to address the human rights of another,” she said to The Hindu. “Juveniles should not be tried as adults but this does not necessary preclude them from facing some form of detention. However, they also require age-appropriate rehabilitation. Our priority must also be to work with boys and adolescents to change social norms and behavior to prevent perpetration of rape by teenagers – this includes programmes that enhance the knowledge and skills of young people and help them to understand gender equality, healthy sexual practices, consent and foster respectful relationships,” she said.

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