Childhood abuse of men and notions of manhood associated with rape perpetration

Social, structural issues enabling violence against women should be addressed

September 10, 2013 10:22 am | Updated November 27, 2021 06:53 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A U.N. survey of 10,000 men in south and east Asia for the first time gives some insight into why it is that men commit rape.

Men were interviewed across nine sites in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea for the study, entitled ‘Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the U.N. Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific’ conducted by Partners for Prevention, a regional joint programme of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), U.N. Women and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Asia and the Pacific. It asked men about “their use and experiences of violence, gendered attitudes and practices, childhood, sexuality, family life and health”.

By far the most common reason, given by 70-80% of men, for committing a rape was sexual entitlement — “men’s belief that they have the right to sex, regardless of consent”. The second most common reasons are ‘for fun’ or due to ‘boredom’ followed by anger or ‘as a punishment’. Alcohol was the least common response given by men.

Rape perpetration by men was strongly associated with having more sexual partners, having paid for sex in the past, and having used physical violence against female partners. “These behaviours are interpreted as not merely expressing sex seeking but more so as ideas of masculinity that emphasize heterosexual performance and dominance over women,” the report said. “The study shows that rape is about the exertion of power but it can also be the performance of a certain type of masculinity.” Some men also expressed frustration with the dominant notions of what it means to be a man.

Many men who admitted to committing rape had been physically or sexually abused as children or neglected by their families. Low socioeconomic status, food insecurity, low educational attainment, alcohol abuse and drug use were also associated with rape perpetration. A large proportion of men reported very high levels of depression, stress and suicidal thoughts.

Those who used sexual violence against their partners were more likely to have experienced gender inequality in the home and child abuse, while non-partner rape was correlated more strongly with “notions of manhood that promote heterosexual dominance and participation in violence outside the home”.

“Violence against women is never acceptable or justifiable. But, we do need to understand men’s lives for prevention, and that was the central premise of our research,” Emma Fulu, Research Specialist at Partners for Prevention and lead author of the report, told The Hindu in an email. “While individual men must be held accountable, we need to work to address broader social and structural issues that enable violence against women to exist in the first place. The findings of the study highlight the need to address gender inequality alongside men’s own experiences of violence, especially as children, as well as other characteristics that may exacerbate violence, such as depression, alcohol abuse, and low levels of education,” Ms. Fulu said.

While a large majority of men supported the “abstract idea” of gender equality, many believed domestic violence was acceptable, and that household work was the woman’s job. In Bangladesh, dowry taking was strongly correlated with violence against women.

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