O! judgment thou art fled to brutish beast

Daily News EDITORIAL

Though the new National Government appears to be making every effort to restore the rule of law, one of the gravest evils—violence, rape and murder of women and girls—seems to be still rampant. On Wednesday there was a hartal in the Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya districts to demand tough action including the death penalty for the person or persons responsible for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Vavuniya. Most schools and shops were closed while the people held angry protests demanding effective police action to arrest and severely punish the offenders.

On Wednesday ten men including a soldier were remanded till March 3 in connection with the gang rape of a mother in Gampola. According to reports the brutal and repeated gang rape had taken place while the mother’s baby was crying for breast milk. Indeed Shakespeare would have said, O! Judgment thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason.

The story has more horrifying aspects, the gang raped mother’s husband is a disabled soldier and he was away when the gang broke in. The 31-year-old mother had fainted after the brutish rape and when her husband returned she had initially not told him what happened. But he somehow had got the truth from her while the army announced it would take tough action against the soldier allegedly involved in the gang rape. He has been suspended and a court martial is likely to be held, the army spokesman said.

A United Nation led survey into violence against women across the Asia and Pacific region made shocking reading for Sri Lanka when the results were revealed in September 2013. Sri Lanka was one of the six included in the three-year long study, along with China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia. The Sri Lankan section of the study was conducted in Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Batticaloa and Hambantota, with respondents answering sensitive questions anonymously to ensure honest disclosure.

Some 15 % of the men surveyed admitted to having committed rape, with a majority being the rape of a partner. Marital rape is not a criminal offence in Sri Lanka unless the husband and wife are legally separated. 65% of these men said they had committed rape more than once, with 40% committing their first rape before the age of 20. The motivation in most cases was sexual entitlement, with 20% saying they did it because it was fun or they were bored.

Most alarmingly, only 3.2% of those who admitted rape were arrested, and only 2.2% were jailed. That means in more than 96 % of rape cases the rapist was not punished. Worst still only 34% even said that they felt worried or guilty about what they had done. Both of those figures are the worst of any country involved in the study, a website said. Women’s rights activist Rosy Senanayake has disclosed that only 600 perpetrators of sexual abuse had been remanded in Sri Lanka out of 300,000 cases. That is a disgraceful 2%. Here are some other shocking revelations. A woman is raped every 90 minutes in Sri Lanka, 95% of women who use public transport experience sexual harassment, and 3-5 children are raped every day.

While women’s rights groups need to intensify their battle against this horrible trend, the men also need to realise that this is a disgrace for them and their country which has a hallowed civilization and culture dating back to more than 2500 years. The research was aimed at finding out why some men committed violence against women, and their conclusion was that gender inequality, gender norms and sexual or relationship practices are the deciding factors. Men who have experienced abuse themselves or have paid for sex are more likely to commit rape, but it is influential narratives of masculinity that celebrate toughness, heterosexual performance and a man’s control over women that have the most influence over a man’s capacity for violence.

The authors of the study say that work to prevent violence against women must expand beyond efforts to change individual men and move towards transforming social norms related to the acceptability of violence against women, to creating masculinities based on respect and equality rather than violence and control, educating the young, and creating violence-free environments for children, the reports said. However, one of the seven main recommendations was to end impunity for men who rape or sexually harass or seek sexual favours from women. Judging by the figures returned for Sri Lanka, that is the factor that the country needs to address most urgently.

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