Tackling Impunity for Sexual Violence - Equality Now

Tackling Impunity for Sexual Violence

Rape and sexual assault are a daily occurrence in every country of the world. The act of rape is in itself inherently violent, there should never be a need to prove additional ‘force’ or violence. The way laws are framed in many countries dismisses this reality and limits victims’ access to justice.

Equality Now works to ensure justice systems better protect women and girls; prosecute and punish perpetrators and prevent further violations of women's and girls’ rights, including through deterrence.

What are the problems with laws on sexual violence?

In many jurisdictions around the world the law on rape, either through its text or through its manner of implementation or lack of it, sends a signal that sexual violence has only happened if a victim actively tries or is unable to resist. In reality, there are a whole range of circumstances under which a survivor of rape may feel coerced or threatened.

The law should never interpret a woman’s lack of physical resistance to sexual violence as consent.

The law should prevent sexual violence and allow survivors access to justice when rape is perpetrated against them. The law and the justice system should protect all complainants in equal measure, no matter their gender, race, class, disability or any other socio-economic status.

Our 2017 report, The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic found 7 key gaps in the law around the world:

At the same time as reviewing and amending laws on rape, governments should look at intersecting issues and relevant laws, such as those on child marriage and those on abortion, including where pregnancy is a consequence of rape, to ensure removal of all discrimination against women and to give women control over their bodily integrity. Government and government-sanctioned male control over women’s bodies, through discriminatory laws on rape, so-called honor crimes, reproductive rights and legalization of prostitution is common across the world. All such provisions rob women of the right to live their lives free from violence and according to their own real choices. ^

Sexual violence and international law

Being able to live a life free from sexual violence is a fundamental human right. There are also various regional and international laws and guidelines including:

Explore more about international laws and standards on ending sexual violence.


What is Equality Now doing to end impunity for sexual violence?

Violence against women and girls is rooted in inequality. Our work to advance global gender equality supports our efforts to get justice for survivors and victims of sexual violence – with the ultimate goal of preventing violence altogether.

Equality Now uses the law to end violence against women and girls by:


Has there been progress?

Countries across the Middle East and North Africa have repealed so-called marry-your-rapist laws.

Malta repealed a law that allowed bride kidnapping - if the offender, after abducting a person, shall marry such person, he shall not be liable to prosecution.

Governments still have a long way to go to transform their laws into policies and practices into instruments that are going to prevent sexual violence, provide better access to justice for survivors (including specialized services) and punish sexual violence adequately.

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