This page has been printed from the Yarrow Place website http://www.yarrowplace.sa.gov.au
Why does rape and sexual assault happen?
There is strong evidence to show that a significant proportion
of men - and some women - honestly believe that it is alright for
a man to force a woman to have sex, whether she wants to or not.
Three research projects have been carried out in different areas
of South Australia, involving over 1000 young men. About one third
of them could identify situations in which they believe that it
is OK for a man to force a woman to have sex. (The word 'force'
is actually used in the question.)
The circumstances include
- they have had sex together before
- she has had sex with other men before
- she has let him touch her 'above the waist'
- she has let him touch her 'below the waist'
- he has spent a lot of money on her
People who hold these beliefs do not think of 'forcing a woman
to have sex' as being wrong. They probably do not think of it as
There are other attitudes and beliefs that can underpin rape and
sexual assault. For many hundreds of years, western cultures (and
some other cultures) believed that wives were the property of their
husbands and that one of the rights that marriage gave to husbands
was a right to sex with their wives whenever the husband wanted
it. Some people still believe this.
The law in South Australia does not support this view. Being married
does not mean that one partner has automatic rights to the body
of the other partner. Sex without consent, or without caring about
whether or not the other person consents, is rape whether or not
the parties are married or in any other ongoing relationship.
Power and Violence
Another attitude that underpins rape and sexual assault relates
to the use of power over another person to get what you want. Using
power might mean using force, using violence, using threats, or
using deceit. Some people believe that it is acceptable to use force
to get what you want. This is essentially a selfish view that says
'what I want matters and what the other person wants doesn't matter'.
Feminist Analysis of Rape & Sexual Assault
Feminist explanations locate the cause of this crime within society.
they suggest that the crime of rape and sexual assault is a crime
of power. Rape & sexual assault is an abuse of power which:
- is a result of unequal power between perpetrator and victim/survivor
- reinforces the inequality of power in this relationship
- reinforces the inequality of power between men and women
Feminist theory focuses on the wider picture of women living in
a society which is dominated by men. Rape and sexual assault is
seen as one of the ways in which men enact their dominance in a
violent way over women, children and other men. It rejects ideas
that rape results from sexual attraction or from the way victims/survivors
dress or behave.
When looking at our society, and indeed globally, men are in the
most powerful positions in social, political, legal, economic, military
and religious institutions. The dominance of men leads to a patriarchal
societies in which men make the rules and laws. The rules and laws
are structured in ways that uphold the status quo and thus the powerful
positions of men. As a result, there is systemic and structural
discrimination of women and other vulnerable and marginalised groups
in society. These inequalities lead to increased vulnerability and
negative social, economic and health outcomes for marginalised abnd
disadvantaged groups. In regards to rape and sexual assault, this
means increased vulnerability to become a victim/survivor of rape
or sexual assault and to disadvantages when dealing with health,
legal and other social systems.
Responsibility and Vulnerability
There is another set of attitudes that are sometimes used to explain
rape and sexual assault. These beliefs suggest that people who are
raped or sexually assaulted were somehow responsible for the assault.
Statements like "she shouldn't have been dressed like that",
"he's too young to have been out by himself that late",
"she shouldn't have hitchhiked", "he shouldn't have
had so much to drink", all suggest that the behaviour of the
victim allowed the assault to happen.
Important things to remember are:
- vulnerability is not the same as responsibility
- rape and sexual assault is a predominated
- the offender is always responsible for committing the crime
- no-one asks to be raped or sexually assaulted
- no-one deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted
- rape and sexual assault is always an abuse of power.