Around the world, laws are failing to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence. We partnered with the Uzbek organization, Nemolchi.uz to publish A Culture of Shame: Sexual Violence and Access to Justice in Uzbekistan to highlight how ineffective rape laws and poor implementation deny access to justice for survivors in Uzbekistan.
Equality Now’s prior analysis and the information collected by Nemolchi.uz found that Uzbekistan’s laws on rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as procedures and practices, effectively deny survivors of sexual violence access to justice.
Some critical failings include, but are not limited to:
- Definition of rape based predominantly on force rather than lack of willing consent: This further perpetuates the myth that only victims who fight back are worthy of protection and fails to recognize that rape could also be perpetrated abusing other forms of manipulation, coercion, and unequal power dynamics that occur in instances of sexual violence.
- Failure to ensure that all allegations of rape are investigated automatically by law enforcement: This places the burden on the victim to initiate and continue legal proceedings which she is unlikely to have the knowledge, resources, capacity, or even freedom to do. If law enforcement does not investigate of its own volition, then perpetrators are less likely to be held accountable.
- The common practice of law enforcement is to blame the victim for the violence done to her: Victim-blaming is one of the key deterrents to reporting sexual violence. When law enforcement itself perpetuates this practice, it becomes nearly impossible for survivors to access justice.
- The common practice of charging lesser crimes than those of rape or not charging at all: Downgrading charges from rape minimizes the seriousness of the crime and creates a culture of impunity.
Nemolchi.uz works directly with Uzbek survivors of sexual violence and it witnesses on a daily basis the negative impact these laws and practices have on women and girls. A 14-year old girl, whose story is featured in our report, was raped by a much older man. He repeatedly threatened her into remaining silent and so the abuse carried on for months. When she finally told her mother who brought her to the police, the court only convicted the perpetrator of a lesser charge, with law enforcement effectively judging the teenager complicit in the abuse she had suffered.
Society believes that it is a shame to be raped, it is a shame to lose virginity, it is a shame to divorce. In short: were you born a girl? You are the one to blame!Irena Matvienko, Nemolchi.uz
N., a seventeen-year-old adolescent allegedly committed suicide after being raped by a married man who coerced her into becoming his second wife in order to preserve her ‘honor’. The man was found guilty of “inducement to suicide” and “polygamy” but was not charged with rape.
The stigma that survivors, the likes of which the above victims encountered, are rooted in misogynistic conceptions about female sexuality and traditional gender roles. In Uzbekistan (and elsewhere!) female survivors are often blamed for their lack of ‘chastity’ yet there is no similar stigma attached to men’s lack of ‘chastity’ nor a society-wide condemnation of rape. Reforming the law is critical in changing societal perceptions about sexual and gender-based violence, in creating an environment in which survivors feel empowered to speak out and demand justice, and in ensuring that justice is actually delivered.
“Even though the legislation of Uzbekistan envisages various forms of sexual violence crimes, in an overwhelming majority of cases, only those perpetrators that used physical force and where the victim managed to rigorously resist are held to account. This is largely because the central element of the rape article is the use of force.
Shifting to the consent-based definition of rape is important for changing the perceptions of the law enforcement and judiciary on sexual violence and getting them into investigating all acts that effectively violate sexual autonomy of women and girls.”Equality Now’s Eurasia Regional Representative, Tamar Dekanosidze
While Uzbekistan has recently taken steps to create a framework for protecting women’s rights and combating gender-based violence, the legal system still provides a number of opportunities for abusers to escape criminal responsibility, both because of how the law is written as well as how sexual violence crimes are investigated and prosecuted in practice. Reforming the letter of the law is an important step, but if Uzbekistan is to improve access to justice for survivors and end impunity for perpetrators then legal reform must be accompanied by robust implementation, training for police, prosecutors, and judges, public-awareness campaigns, and improved services for victims.