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06.10.2013 Feature Article

RAPE LAWS AND SOCIAL MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS

RAPE LAWS AND SOCIAL MEDICAL IMPLICATIONS
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Laws defining and setting punishments for rape have varied enormously among different cultures and during different time periods. Throughout history, rape laws have illustrated a culture's social and political attitudes about sex and gender .Rape involves sexual intercourse against a person's will. Most experts believe the primary cause of rape is an aggressive desire to dominate the victim rather than an attempt to achieve sexual fulfillment. They consider rape an act of violence rather than principally a sexual encounter. It is a little wonder that rape is one of the least-reported crimes. Perhaps it is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused and, in reality, it is she who must prove her good reputation, her mental soundness, and her impeccable propriety. Erotica is about sexuality, but pornography is about power and sex-as-weapon in the same way we have come to understand that rape is about violence or terrorism and not really about sex at all, hence it worsens the burden of disease of social pathological nature.

Rape is often explained or excused as a manifestation of racial, ethnic and class hatred or as stemming from a patriarchal system in which women are viewed as the property of men. Whatever its origins, rape is a serious crime and is treated as a felony in most countries with common-law systems. In many rape trials, the guilt or innocence of the accused hinges on whether or not the victim consented to sexual intercourse. The determination of consent often can lead to distressing cross-examinations of rape victims in court. As a result, many rape victims choose not to report the crime to police or refuse to press charges against their assailants.

Many countries provide legal redress for women who are raped. However, some countries expect that women will be protected by sexual taboos (social prohibitions) rather than by criminal law. National military codes and international agreements such as the Geneva Convention (1949) prohibit rape by soldiers during times of war or civil conflict. However, in some instances military leaders have actually tolerated and even encouraged rape, either as a 'reward' for soldiers or as part of a campaign of terror. Recently, human rights organizations have sought to protect women around the world from sexual violence and to hold those who victimize women, even during wartime, accountable.

As women gained greater legal protections under civil rights laws and acquired more political equality, traditional rape laws came under attack. Beginning in the 1960s, members of the women's movement assailed many of the assumptions on which rape laws were based. For example, they criticized the fact that rape laws were preoccupied with protecting men from false accusations. According to these activists, the laws not only failed to adequately protect women, they often did women harm. Citing research indicating that women who resisted rapists were more likely to incur serious physical injury, reformers called into question the appropriateness of the utmost resistance doctrine.

The identification of rape trauma syndrome also affected attitudes and laws concerning rape. Rape trauma syndrome, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, is a psychological reaction to rape involving feelings of shock and shame. Victims who experience this syndrome are often reluctant to report a rape. Discovery of rape trauma syndrome undermined the fresh complaint rule, which is based on the assumption that delayed complaints of rape are less reliable.

As attitudes about sexuality and gender equality continue to change, lawmakers and legal reformers struggle to redefine what behaviors constitute rape. Some argue that rape should be defined as any nonconsensual sexual intercourse, without any special requirement to prove use of force. This proposal has been highly controversial. However, as a result of changing societal perceptions, laws now prohibit several different types of rape.

FORCIBLE RAPE; Sexual intercourse carried out against a person's will by the use or threat of physical force is sometimes referred to as forcible rape. Historically, a person could only be charged with rape if force was used to subdue the victim. A person commits aggravated sexual assault if he or she wounds, maims, disfigures, or endangers the life of another person while sexually assaulting that person. However, for the purpose of determining whether a sexual assault has occurred, the statute defines consent as the 'voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question.' If the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity or if the complainant expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in the activity, a defendant may not successfully defend against charges of sexual assault on the grounds that the complainant consented.

ACQUAINTANCE RAPE; when a person rapes a person he or she knows, it is called either acquaintance rape or date rape. The two people may be friends, former lovers, or presently dating. Studies indicate that a woman is more likely to be raped by an acquaintance than by a stranger or a relative. An acquaintance may commit forcible rape. However, the term acquaintance rape is usually applied when the sexual intercourse is nonconsensual but does not involve the physical coercion typically associated with forcible rape, such as assault or threats of violence.

The issue of consent in circumstances of date rape has stirred considerable controversy. Determining whether an incident of sexual intercourse was consensual can be very difficult. A man charged with rape and a woman alleging that she has been raped might have very different perspectives about what happened, even if they are both sincerely trying to give a truthful account. Lawmakers and courts have struggled with the issue of whether to define consent from the victim's point of view. To do so creates the risk of punishing a person (the accused rapist) who mistakenly thought another person was consenting to sexual relations.

As awareness of acquaintance rape has grown, the subject has become a frequent topic of discussion and political protest. Rape education advocates conduct seminars on communication differences between men and women regarding consent to sex. Some colleges have developed codes of conduct instructing young men to ask permission and await an answer before pursuing sexual intercourse.

MARITAL RAPE; Rape of a person's spouse is called marital rape or spousal rape. There are certain recommendations on this theory that it is inappropriate for the law to invade marital privacy. However, as a result of changing attitudes about domestic violence, many countries have abandoned this doctrine and began to allow prosecutions for marital rape, especially if it is committed by force.

STATUTORY RAPE; Sexual intercourse with a person who has not reached the age of consent is known as statutory rape. The age of consent for sexual intercourse varies depending on each country, but it is no higher than 18 in most countries. Under most country laws, the younger the victim is, the greater the punishment. Statutory rape laws traditionally treated men or boys as the prospective offenders and young women or girls as prospective victims. However, some jurisdictions have enacted gender-neutral statutory rape laws. States also typically treat sexual intercourse as rape if the victim is considered incapable of giving consent for a reason other than age. For example, if a person has sexual intercourse with someone who is drugged or asleep, or who is mentally retarded, that person may be found guilty of rape.

RAPE OF MEN; Traditional rape laws were gender specific, providing that only women could be victims of rape and only men could be rapists. In recent years an increasing number of countries have rewritten their rape laws to be gender neutral. In such countries, it is possible, although unlikely, for a woman to be charged with raping a man. Homosexual rape, when it is not covered by a country's general rape statute, may be covered by statutes that prohibit anal or oral sex between members of the same sex, a type of sodomy. Although some statutes do not distinguish between forcible and consensual acts, forcible sodomy is generally subject to more severe punishments. Homosexual rape is a notorious problem in prisons. However, in society as a whole, rape of men whether by women or other men is not a highly visible issue.

The social and medical implication of rape is that women who are raped suffer a sense of violation that goes beyond physical injury. They may become distrustful of men and experience feelings of shame, humiliation, and loss of privacy. Victims who suffer rape trauma syndrome experience physical symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. They may also develop psychological disturbances related to the circumstances of the rape, such as intense fears. Fear of being raped has social as well as personal consequences. For example, it may prevent women from socializing or traveling as they wish. Lastly, rape contributes to the increase of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.

As attitudes about rape have changed, society's response to rape has also altered. For example, many law enforcement agencies have instituted practices that show greater sensitivity to rape victims. Some cities have formed special units of trained policewomen and counselors. Use of such specialists can help make it less difficult for a rape victim to report an attack. In addition, rape crisis hot lines and clinics have been established to help victims negotiate the legal system and overcome the aftereffects of being victimized.

In summary, precise and reliable statistics concerning rape are not available. Rape remains an underreported crime. In the past, victims were hesitant to report rapes because of insensitive and sometimes hostile treatment by law enforcement personnel. Although dramatic changes have taken place in public and professional attitudes toward rape in recent years, many victims remain hesitant to report rape. Even where the police and courts are more sympathetic, victims often do not report a rape because they feel embarrassed or ashamed, blame themselves, fear retaliation, or do not wish to relive the experience. In addition, statistics about rape are unreliable because of differing definitions of rape and differing perceptions of whether certain actions constitute rape. As a result, self-report surveys of individuals who may have been victims of rape present widely varying estimates of the number of rapes that occur and the likelihood of being raped.

JONES H. MUNANG'ANDU (author)

Motivational speaker, health commentator &
Health practitioner

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