In the first few months of 2023 alone, multiple cases of rape and sexual misconduct against women and children have been reported which name those in religious institutions, business organizations, athletic institutions, and even Presidents as alleged offenders. What unites the accused is significant power over their proven and purported victims and the historical impunity afforded by this power and by society’s general indifference to institutional misogyny.
We must put an end to impunity
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we should see sincere commitments by government, law enforcement, businesses, media and the entertainment industry, schools and all other institutions to end impunity and to hold all abusers to proper account. Rape myths and negative stereotypes perpetuate the notion of entitled men and blameworthy women, exacerbated and reinforced at the intersection of other disadvantaged identities including those additionally marginalized such as by race, disability, age, or gender.
Such beliefs contribute generally to a culture of impunity, but when combined with large power and resource differentials, justice can become near impossible to achieve. Equality Now’s collaboration with, for example, Dalit women in India, women with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan and adolescent girls in Latin America shows all too clearly how perpetrators exploit their power to abuse and escape punishment. This is unacceptable. The law must be fair to all and equally accessible by all.
How Do We Fight Back Against Impunity?
There are solutions though which can easily be implemented with political will and the active collaboration of all sectors of society. Firstly, there should be no discrimination in the law. Sexual violence laws should focus on the issue of consent understood in the particular context. This would mean that those in power would not be able to coerce those with less power into sexual activity if they were not genuinely willing. Footage of the Dalai Lama asking a small boy for a kiss and to suck his tongue show very clearly how consent in such circumstances could not be possible. When those responsible for enforcing the law take advantage of their position to abuse women, that is also not genuine and willing consent.
Implementation of good laws, free not just from rape myths and stereotypes, but also from the negative influence of powerful men and institutions, is also critical. Take for example the case of Paola Guzman in Ecuador who committed suicide at age 16 after being raped from the age of 14 and impregnated by her school assistant principal and being failed by the school doctor and school inspector. Only when Paola’s case was referred to the Inter-American Court was there recognition of her abuse by the individual and the institution.
Equality Now leverages international and regional standards generally in our work to hold governments accountable to their obligations – which include ensuring non-discrimination and justice for all. It is essential that governments put in place good laws, implement them without prejudice and ensure that justice is equally accessible by all.
Equality Now has collaborated with UN Women, the Council of Europe and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the General Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia as well as with international and local experts, including from the judiciary to develop a manual for the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual violence crimes. After training of the police, prosecutors and judges, there has been a recorded increase in prosecutions of 76% and 44% greater convictions. We are hopeful that this new process has also produced less re-traumatization of victims as well as greater accountability generally with respect to violence against women.
The impunity of powerful men and institutions contributes however to lack of faith in the justice system. This will result in a spiral of less reporting, less justice, and more impunity. If we start by holding the most powerful to account, we know we will be well on our way to achieving justice for all.
Learn more about our work to End Sexual Violence