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Causes of sexual violence

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Template:Merge Sexual violence is found in almost every country. Research suggests that in all classes and in all age groups sexual violence occurs. The prevalence of sexual violence however remains under research. Data on sexually violent men also show that most direct their acts at women whom they already know.[1][2] Among the factors increasing the risk of a man committing rape are those related to attitudes and beliefs, as well as behaviour arising from situations and social conditions that provide opportunities and support for abuse.

Individual factorsEdit

Alcohol and drug consumptionEdit

Alcohol has been shown to play a disinhibiting role in certain types of sexual assault[3], as have some drugs, notably cocaine.[4] Alcohol has a psychopharmacological effect of reducing inhibitions, clouding judgements and impairing the ability to interpret cues.[5] The biological links between alcohol and violence are, however, complex.[3] Research on the social anthropology of alcohol consumption suggests that connections between violence, drinking and drunkenness are socially learnt rather than universal.[6] Some researchers have noted that alcohol may act as a cultural break time, providing the opportunity for antisocial behaviour. Thus people are more likely to act violently when drunk because they do not consider that they will be held accountable for their behaviour. Some forms of group sexual violence are also associated with drinking. In these settings, consuming alcohol is an act of group bonding, where inhibitions are collectively reduced and individual judgement ceded in favour of that of the group.

Psychological factorsEdit

There has been considerable research in recent times on the role of cognitive variables among the set of factors that can lead to rape. Sexually violent men have been shown to be more likely to consider victims responsible for the rape and are less knowledgeable about the impact of rape on victims.[7] Such men may misread cues given out by women in social situations and may lack the inhibitions that act to suppress associations between sex and aggression.[7] They may have coercive sexual fantasies[8], generally encouraged by access to pornography[9], and overall are more hostile towards women than men who are not sexually violent.[10][11][12] In addition to these factors, sexually violent men are believed to differ from other men in terms of impulsivity and antisocial tendencies.[13] They also tend to have an exaggerated sense of masculinity. Sexual violence is also associated with a preference for impersonal sexual relationships as opposed to emotional bonding, with having many sexual partners and with the inclination to assert personal interests at the expense of others.[11][14] A further association is with adversarial attitudes on gender, that hold that women are opponents to be challenged and conquered.[15]

Peer and family factorsEdit

Gang rapeEdit

Some forms of sexual violence, such as gang rape, are predominantly committed by young men.[16] Sexual aggression is often a defining characteristic of manhood in the group and is significantly related to the wish to be held in high esteem.[17] Sexually aggressive behaviour among young men has been linked with gang membership and having delinquent peers.[12][18] Research also suggests that men with sexually aggressive peers are also much more likely to report coercive or enforced intercourse outside the gang context than men lacking sexually aggressive peers.[19] Gang rape is often viewed by the men involved, and sometimes by others too, as legitimate, in that it is seen to discourage or punish perceived immoral behaviour among woman, such as wearing short skirts or frequenting bars.

For this reason, it may not be equated by the perpetrators with the idea of a crime. In several areas in Papua New Guinea, women can be punished by public gang rape, often sanctioned by elders.[20]

Early childhood environmentsEdit

There is evidence to suggest that sexual violence is also a learnt behaviour in some men, particularly as regards child sexual abuse. Studies on sexually abused boys have shown that around one in five continue in later life to molest children themselves.[21] Such experiences may lead to a pattern of behaviour where the man regularly justifies being violent, denies doing wrong, and has false and unhealthy notions about sexuality.

Childhood environments that are physically violent, emotionally unsupportive and characterized by competition for scarce resources have been associated with sexual violence.[13][18][22][23] Sexually aggressive behaviour in young men, for instance, has been linked to witnessing family violence, and having emotionally distant and uncaring fathers.[18][24] Men raised in families with strongly patriarchal structures are also more likely to become violent, to rape and use sexual coercion against women, as well as to abuse their intimate partners, than men raised in homes that are more egalitarian.[25]

Family honour and sexual purityEdit

Another factor involving social relationships is a family response to sexual violence that blames women without punishing men, concentrating instead on restoring lost family honor. Such a response creates an environment in which rape can occur with impunity.

While families will often try to protect their women from rape and may also put their daughters on contraception to prevent visible signs should it occur[26], there is rarely much social pressure to control young men or persuade them that coercing sex is wrong.Template:Where Instead, in some countries, there is frequently support for family members to do whatever is necessary including murder to alleviate the shame associated with a rape or other sexual transgression. In a review of all crimes of honour occurring in Jordan in 1995[27], researchers found that in over 60% of the cases, the victim died from multiple gunshot wounds mostly at the hands of a brother. In cases where the victim was a single pregnant female, the offender was either acquitted of murder or received a reduced sentence.

Community factorsEdit


Poverty is linked to both the perpetration of sexual violence and the risk of being a victim of it. Several authors have argued that the relationship between poverty and perpetration of sexual violence is mediated through forms of crisis of masculine identity.[28][29][30][31][32]

Bourgois, writing about life in East Harlem, New York, United States, described how young men felt pressured by models of successful masculinity and family structure passed down from their parents and grandparents generations, together with modern day ideals of manhood that also place an emphasis on material consumption. Trapped in their slums, with little or no available employment, they are unlikely to attain either of these models or expectations of masculine success. In these circumstances, ideals of masculinity are reshaped to emphasize misogyny, substance abuse and participation in crime and often also xenophobia and racism. Gang rape and sexual conquest are normalized, as men turn their aggression against women they can no longer control patriarchally or support economically.[30]

Physical and social environmentEdit

While fear of rape is typically associated with being outside the home[33][34], the great majority of sexual violence actually occurs in the home of the victim or the abuser. Nonetheless, abduction by a stranger is quite often the prelude to a rape and the opportunities for such an abduction are influenced by the physical environment. The social environment within a community is, however, usually more important than the physical surrounding. How deeply entrenched in a community beliefs in male superiority and male entitlement to sex are will greatly affect the likelihood of sexual violence taking place, as will the general tolerance in the community of sexual assault and the strength of sanctions, if any, against perpetrators.[1][35] For instance, in some places, rape can even occur in public, with passersby refusing to intervene.[36] Complaints of rape may also be treated leniently by the police, particularly if the assault is committed during a date or by the victim's husband. Where police investigations and court cases do proceed, the procedures may well be either extremely lax or else corrupt for instance, with legal papers being lost in return for a bribe.

Societal factorsEdit

Factors operating at a societal level that influence sexual violence include laws and national policies relating to gender equality in general and to sexual violence more specifically, as well as norms relating to the use of violence. While the various factors operate largely at local level, within families, schools, workplaces and communities, there are also influences from the laws and norms working at national and even international level.

Laws and policiesEdit

There are considerable variations between countries in their approach to sexual violence. Some countries have far-reaching legislation and legal procedures, with a broad definition of rape that includes marital rape, and with heavy penalties for those convicted and a strong response in supporting victims. Commitment to preventing or controlling sexual violence is also reflected in an emphasis on police training and an appropriate allocation of police resources to the problem, in the priority given to investigating cases of sexual assault, and in the resources made available to support victims and provide medico-legal services. At the other end of the scale, there are countries with much weaker approaches to the issue where conviction of an alleged perpetrator based on the accusation of the women alone is not allowed, where certain forms or settings of sexual violence are specifically excluded from the legal definition, and where rape victims are strongly deterred from bringing the matter to court through the fear of being punished for filing an unproven rape suit.

Social normsEdit

Sexual violence committed by men is to a large extent rooted in ideologies of male sexual entitlement. These belief systems grant women extremely few legitimate options to refuse sexual advances.[37][38][39] Some men thus simply exclude the possibility that their sexual advances towards a woman might be rejected or that a woman has the right to make an autonomous decision about participating in sex. In some cultures women, as well as men, regard marriage as entailing the obligation on women to be sexually available virtually without limit[40][41], though sex may be culturally proscribed at certain times, such as after childbirth or during menstruation.[42]

Societal norms around the use of violence as a means to achieve objectives have been strongly associated with the prevalence of rape. In societies where the ideology of male superiority is strong, emphasizing dominance, physical strength and male honour, rape is more common.[43] Countries with a culture of violence, or where violent conflict is taking place, experience an increase in almost all forms of violence, including sexual violence.[43][44]

Global trends and economic factorsEdit

Many of the factors operating at a national level have an international dimension. Global trends, for instance towards free trade, have been accompanied by an increase in the movement around the world of women and girls for labour, including for sex work.[45] Economic structural adjustment programmes, drawn up by international agencies, have accentuated poverty and unemployment in a number of countries, thereby increasing the likelihood of sexual trafficking and sexual violence.[46] something particularly noted in Central America, the Caribbean[47] and parts of Africa[48].


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See alsoEdit

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