Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for October 2017

Sexual violence, whether against women, men or children, is a tragic fact of life seen across national borders and class divisions.

Violence against women assumes many forms, ranging from emotional abuse to sexual predation, assault and rape. Honour killings, forced child marriages, sexual exploitation and trafficking, genital mutilation, and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered “gender-based violence”.

In 2013 the World Health Organization, together with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the UK Medical Research Council, conducted an analysis, based on existing data from over 80 countries, which found that worldwide almost one in three women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. The prevalence estimates range from 23.2% in high-income countries and 24.6% in the Western Pacific region to 37% in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and 37.7% in South-East Asia. Furthermore, globally as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

Leaving aside fatal outcomes such as homicide or suicide, the analysis found that women who had been sexually abused were 1.5 times more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection and, in some regions, HIV, compared to women who had not experienced partner violence. They are also twice as likely to have an abortion.

Some of the factors identified by the WHO study that lead to both intimate partner and sexual violence include: lower levels of education; exposure to child maltreatment; witnessing family violence; antisocial personality disorder; harmful use of alcohol; having multiple partners or suspected by their partners of infidelity; and attitudes that are accepting of violence and gender inequality.

In cultures where violence in general is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honour and male sexual entitlement are unquestioned, sexual violence against women rarely evokes censure.

It has also been amply documented that war zones, refugee camps and disaster areas are fertile settings for rape and sexual assault. In these places, even humanitarian aid workers are not immune. One study revealed that female aid workers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues.

A renewed debate (probably short-lived, like the sporadic debates over gun laws!) on violence against women has been sparked in the United States by the recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in Hollywood and the American media industry. Since the allegations about Harvey Weinstein surfaced, many high-profile names have used social media to highlight the problem of sexual assault, some detailing the harassment they too have endured.

Weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence is one reason that abusers are never checked. But cultural acceptance is a more pervasive and disturbing reason.

Weinstein’s sexual predatory behaviour seems to have been well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity because the “macho” masculinity that pervades Hollywood culture condoned it or simply laughed it off.

And why did the rich, white women superstars who now join the tirade against him not complain when their careers were being launched? And what have they done with their current fame and wealth to highlight the plight of less fortunate women in the USA and beyond?

Whenever I watch a typical Hollywood movie, what disturbs me more than gratuitous scenes of sex and violence is the constant and routine use of sexual obscenities, especially the F-word. Before you dismiss me as a prude, just consider: here is a swear word used in contexts of cheating, robbing and degrading somebody that we intensely dislike which is at the same time used to describe the most intimate physical act between two human beings. What cultural understanding of sexual intercourse does that convey to young people?

The coarsening and degradation of the English language is not morally neutral. When sex and violence are routinely linked together in our everyday speech, only an alternative language can restore respect and dignity in our human relationships.

And, of course, we must not forget that more than fifty per cent of white American women voted in a President who speaks of them in the most obscene, predatory language.

A bigger tragedy is that large sections of the global church are swift to condemn Hollywood but fail to put their own houses in order. Patriarchy, often in its most oppressive guise, reigns. The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, for instance, has in recent years known of acts of rape and sexual assault committed by its ministers against women in their congregations. None of these men have been handed over to the police, or even removed from the ministry by the clerical hierarchy. When pressed, the answer given by the latter is: “In a society already hostile to Christians this will only give further ammunition to our enemies.”

When self-preservation becomes more important than moral integrity and faithfulness to the Gospel, hasn’t the church ceased to be the Church of Jesus Christ and become instead just another club for men playing religious games?



October 2017
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