When you think about it, putting up a struggle seems like a futile endeavour given that the crime of rape is increasingly being used as an instrument to assert domination and intimidation over the weak and defenceless. In fact, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) report on the annual state of world population, says the legislation is deeply wrong, subjugates women, and shifts the burden of guilt to the victim.
As per the report, 20 countries still allow victims to marry their victims as a means to avoid prosecution. Among those countries listed, Russia, Thailand, and Venezuela have laws that allow rapists seep through the cracks by having their rape convictions overturned if they agree to marry the women or girls they have assaulted.
Executive director of the UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem, said such laws were “deeply wrong” and were “a way of subjugating women”. In her statement as reported by The Guardian, Kanem said, “The denial of rights cannot be shielded in law. ‘Marry your rapist’ laws shift the burden of guilt on to the victim and try to sanitise a situation which is criminal.”
Dima Dabbous, the director of Equality Now’s Middle East and Africa region, and whose research was named in the report, said that these laws reflected a culture “that does not think women should have bodily autonomy and that they are the property of the family. It’s a tribal and antiquated approach to sexuality and honour mixed together,” adding that it’s “very difficult to change [these laws] but it’s not impossible.”
Some of the laws across these countries are as follows:
• Kuwait allows a perpetrator to legally marry his victim after permission from her guardian has been granted. • In Russia, if the perpetrator has reached 18 and has been convicted of statutory rape with a minor below the age of 16, he is exempt from being sentenced if he marries the girl.• In Thailand, marriage can be considered a suitable sentence for assault if the offender is over 18 and the victim is over 15. However, this is only acceptable if the victim has “consented” to the offence and if the court grants permission for marriage.
The UNFPA also reported that 43 countries have no legislation criminalising marital rape. The report, which emphasises on bodily autonomy, or the woman’s ability to make choices about their bodies that’s devoid of violence or coercion, brings to light that nearly half of women in 57 countries, (45 per cent), are denied the freedom on consent when sex with their partner, use contraception, or seek healthcare.
Says Kanem, “The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek healthcare should outrage us all. In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others.”
The report states that education is vital when it comes to improving bodily autonomy. Kanem also agreed that while laws must be changed, he is of the opinion that social norms must become more gender balanced, and that healthcare providers can also play a critical role. “The denial of bodily autonomy is a violation of women and girls’ fundamental human rights that reinforces inequalities and perpetuates violence arising from gender discrimination. It is nothing less than an annihilation of the spirit, and it must stop,” she stated.
*Images from shutterstock used for representational purposes only