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On 15 February 2018, the US House of Representatives re-introduced the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), sponsored by Representative Schakowsky along with 72 other co-sponsors. This follows the November 2017 re-introduction of I-VAWA as a bi-partisan bill by the Senate. I-VAWA was first introduced in the US Congress in 2007, but efforts to pass the law have failed for over a decade despite the bill being repeatedly re-introduced. The current climate, with growing awareness of and strong opposition to violence against women, presents an ideal opportunity to pass I-VAWA and take a crucial step towards ending violence against women and girls globally.
TAKE ACTION! URGE YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVES TO CO-SPONSOR AND PASS THE I-VAWA IN 2018!
Gender-based violence is a global problem and the numbers are staggering:
- One in three women will face physical, mental or sexual abuse in their lifetimes.
- Each year, around 3 million girls and women – or some 8,000 girls each day – face the risk of female genital mutilation. An estimated 200 million girls have already been subjected to the practice.
- Worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday. Nearly 39,000 girls under the age of 18 are still married each day.
- In some countries, as many as 30 percent of women report that their first sexual experience was coerced or forced. The younger a woman was at the time of sexual initiation, the higher the chance that it was violent.
- One billion women and girls are affected by violence, including rape, domestic violence, acid burning, dowry-deaths, “honor” killings, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage and other harmful practices.
- Violent extremism is on the rise and it places the subordination of women at the center of the ideology and war tactics - mass rape is often used as a weapon of war.
How does I-VAWA help?
I-VAWA is bi-partisan legislation that will not only improve the response to violence against women and girls, but will also prevent it. And now more than ever, women and girls deserve a chance to live their lives free from violence. Equality Now, along with its partners in the Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girl Globally, call on Congress to swiftly consider and pass I-VAWA to empower women and girls, along with their communities and nations, to end violence.
25 JULY 2018 UPDATE: Following our joint submission with partners in Lebanon to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the Committee), while commending the repeal of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, on 9 May 2018, the Committee expressed its concern that articles 505 and 518 of the Criminal Code are still used to exempt rapists of minors between 15 and 18 years of age from prosecution or punishment when the survivors have been promised for marriage to the rapists by their parents. The Committee urged Lebanon to “amend articles 505 and 518 of the Criminal Code to ensure that perpetrators of rape incur criminal responsibly without exception and regardless of the age of the victim.”
Equality Now and the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Woman (LECORVAW) in Lebanon renew its call to the Speaker of the House to submit the proposed November 2017 bill, for vote in the new Parliament, submitted by three parliamentarians, in consultation with the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), to amend articles addressing sex with and sexual harassment of minors in order to close the remaining loopholes in the law.
13 NOVEMBER 2017 UPDATE: The momentum to close remaining loopholes allowing impunity for rapists and sexual harassers is growing! On 2 November 2017, a proposal to amend articles in the Penal Code addressing sex with and sexual harassment of minors was submitted to the Speaker of the House by three members of Parliament, in consultation with the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW). The bill would also repeal Article 518 of the Penal Code allowing the "seduction" of girls for the purpose of marriage.
Please call on the Speaker of the House to submit the bill to the full Parliament for a vote! The next Parliamentary session could happen at any time.
Articles under review:
• Article 505 currently allows for the marriage of, and therefore sex with, minors who are 15 years old up to 18 years old in "consensual" relationships under the supervision of a judge and a social worker. If amended, Article 505 would instead punish those who have sex with 15 -18 year olds, without any exceptions for subsequent marriage.
• If repealed, Article 518 would no longer allow prosecutions to be stopped or sentences to be suspended for men who go on to marry virgin girls they had initially “seduced” with promises of marriage.
• If amended, Article 519 would no longer consider a minor’s “consent” in cases of sexual harassment of 15 year olds up to 18 year olds.
16 AUGUST 2017 UPDATE: Lebanon's parliament has voted for the full repeal of Article 522 of the Penal Code! Going forward rapists and other sexual abusers who marry their victims will no longer enjoy impunity for their crimes. This is yet another momentous victory in the Arab region following Jordan and Tunisia's reforms and should encourage other countries in the region that still have these discriminatory legal provisions. Congratulations to all the activists who worked tirelessly for years to make this happen! We are coordinating with our partners to make sure that no other gaps in protecting women and girls' rights to be free from sexual violence remain in the law.
Amal* was just 12 years old when she was raped by a 24-year-old man in Lebanon. Our partners at the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Woman (LECORVAW) came to her aid, making sure that her rapist was arrested. Sadly, however, Amal did not get justice. Because the rapist and his family knew that by law – specifically Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code which was enacted to preserve “the honor and dignity of the victim’s family” – he could escape prosecution by marrying his victim, they pressured Amal’s family to force a marriage, including with offers of money. Though Amal’s parents didn’t accept the offer or accept the bribe, the criminal court freed the rapist on bail. And, because of the heavy stigma placed on rape survivors, Amal’s parents did not push further for a prosecution. Rather, believing that marriage is her only option, they engaged Amal to a relative. Now Amal is not only a rape survivor, but is also under threat of “child marriage” – a common situation for girls who are raped in Lebanon and in other parts of the world where such laws still exist.
There is hope, however, for Amal and the thousands of girls who are victims of these types of legal “rape exemptions.” On 7 December 2016, the Lebanese Parliamentary Administration and Justice Committee approved the repeal of Article 522 from the Penal Code. If Parliament votes yes, then perpetrators of rape, kidnapping or statutory rape would not be able to escape prosecution or other penalties by marrying their victims.
Repealing Article 522 would help end the re-victimization of rape and sexual assault survivors and put Lebanon in compliance with its obligations under international law, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
*not her real name
“I could not accept the idea of having married my rapist.” With these words, Sabiha (not her real name), began her story to Equality Now’s partner in Iraq, the Baghdad Women Association.
One night, while Sabiha, a 32-year-old woman, was working late at her medical laboratory job, the security guard - a relative of hers - raped her. As if that wasn’t traumatic enough, her family and community pressured her into marrying her rapist to remove the stigma they believe her rape placed on her family’s “honor.” Many communities around the world, including Sabiha’s, subscribe to the sex discriminatory belief that women and girls are vessels of their family’s “honor.” So rather than a criminal attack on Sabiha, the rape was seen as an attack on the family’s reputation, which they felt could only be lessened by marrying her off. Through Article 398 of Iraq’s Penal Code No. 111 of 1969, which effectively encourages this practice, Sabiha, a once energetic and highly motivated woman, was re-victimized while her rapist escaped all punishment by marrying her.
For nine months, she endured continued rapes, trauma, isolation and anxiety: “I was under constant stress, unhappy, feeling disgusted. I took every opportunity to initiate fights with him until I forced him to leave me.” But even after an eventual divorce, Sabiha’s life did not get any better. Her older sisters and brothers didn’t accept her decision to divorce and refuse to give her any physical or mental support. Her family prevented her from continuing with her work or from leaving her home unless escorted by her mother. And, recently, less than a year ago, Sabiha, who is now 35 years old was pressured to marry a 70-year-old man with three children, some of them her same age and who treat her badly.
Marry-your-rapist exemption, polygamy, “child marriage”. There is a disturbing pattern in Iraq in the last few months and years, with Parliamentarians proposing and backing laws that encourage violence and discrimination against women and girls. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed similar “marry your rapist” provisions in 2017 and Bahrain and several other countries in the region are in the process of revoking such articles.
Please raise your voice.
Support us and our local partners; Baghdad Women Association, the Iraqi Women League, and the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women (the Coalition), and call on Iraq to follow its neighbors lead!
Parliamentarian Intisar Aljubory submitted a proposal to repeal Article 398 supported by 66 of her fellow MPs. Moreover, in October 2017, the coalition sent a letter to the Iraqi Speaker of the House demanding repeal of Article 398. However, it is still pending. The Coalition, including MP Intisar Aljubory, along with Women for Peace in Iraq, continues to campaign and raise awareness of parliamentarians, civil society and judges about the issue.
Join Iraqi activists in calling on Speaker of the House Salim al-Jabouri to immediately call for a vote to repeal Article 398 to stop the abuse of women like Sabiha. Thank you!
Bolivia has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women and children in South America, but one of the lowest reporting rates. We’re fighting for justice for Brisa and other women and girls who have been sexually abused and we need your help!
When Brisa was 15 years old, an adult cousin came to live with her and her family and immediately began to isolate her. Over time he started raping her, and used more violence to keep her silent. He blamed her for the abuse, beat her, threatened to rape her sisters, and tortured her pets while making her watch. Brisa attempted suicide twice and did everything she could to push her family away in the belief that it would keep them safe. Finally, after eight months, Brisa’s family discovered the abuse and reported it to the police. But Brisa’s nightmare didn’t end there.
She was re-victimized by medical personnel during her numerous physical exams, by the prosecutor during the investigation, and by judges who questioned her about her sexual history during the trial. In one instance, a judge even implied that she could not have been raped because she had not screamed! Although Brisa had originally brought a case against her cousin for rape, the judge used his discretion to charge him with estupro -- damaging legislation that imposes lesser penalties for the rape of an adolescent girl than of a young girl or adult woman. Not obtaining justice in Bolivia, Brisa got her law degree and took her case all the way to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). However, fifteen years after she first reported the abuse, Brisa’s abuser has still not been brought to justice.
To help ensure that other children did not have to endure what she experienced, she founded A Breeze of Hope (Fundación Una Brisa de Esperanza) at age 17. However, cases of sexual abuse of very young children continue in overwhelming numbers. According to a report presented by Bolivia’s Ombudsman, in the first half of 2015 alone, there were 569 reported cases of sexual violence against minors; 94% of them were against young or adolescent girls. This directly contradicts Bolivia’s many international commitments to ensure women and girls are free from sexual violence.
Equality Now has joined with Brisa, A Breeze of Hope, the Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School and the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed to pursue litigation and advocacy in support of Bolivia’s girls. In March 2017, we held a thematic hearing on sexual abuse with the Government of Bolivia at the IACHR. At that public hearing, Bolivia promised to work with us to amend its penal code.
Unfortunately, although the process was started to approve a new penal code which would have included some of our recommendations, national politics prevented it from being approved, leaving the estupro article in place, as well as the requirement for survivors to prove intimidation or physical or psychological violence. Brisa’s case is now in the final stage at the IACHR, which is responsible for making a final ruling on the facts and law of the case.
In addition to the legal case, for the last few years, Equality Now has supported the Breeze of Hope Foundation and the Network of Girls, Boys and Adolescents Against Sexual Violence, for them to be the ones advocating at the national level for access to justice for themselves as survivors of sexual violence, and for the rest of the girls in the country. To broaden this effort, Equality Now recently convened various human rights organizations in Bolivia to create a coalition to push for changes in law, implementation of protocols, and for services to allow survivors to live safely and in peace.
TAKE ACTION! Right now the government is reforming its rape and sexual abuse laws. Help us make sure that Bolivia follows through on its promises and obligations to its women and girls!
Please join our collective call on Bolivia to:
- Define rape as based on lack of consent and including all forms of non-consensual penetration;
- Eliminate the requirement that survivors prove “intimidation, physical violence, or psychological violence”;
- Apply international and regional human rights standards on consent;
- Repeal the estupro provision, legislation which is used to allow rapists to avoid conviction in cases where the victim is 14-17 years old; and
- Provide clear guidelines on what acts constitute sexual abuse.
Thank you for your support!
The #MeToo social media campaign and the growing list of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men in industry, politics and media highlights the pervasive nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite United States laws to deal with this issue, the system continuously fails men and women who are sexually harassed and assaulted in the workplace.
90 percent of individuals who say they have experienced sexual harassment never take formal action against the harassment. Most stay quiet for fear of disbelief or inaction on their claim, or worse, retaliation - professionally or socially. Fear is not unfounded, as some studies found that 75% of those who spoke up experienced some form of retaliation, which is illegal.
It’s past time that companies are held accountable to ending sexual harassment and rape culture in the workplace, rather than being concerned only with legal compliance and confidentiality. This requires everyone in the workplace, including co-workers, supervisors, clients and customers, to help end harassment. In 2016, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommended the launch of an It’s on Us campaign in workplaces across the country to change workplace cultures, and to provide everyone in the workplace with the tools and resources to prevent sexual harassment/assault as engaged bystanders. However, more than a year later, this recommendation has not been implemented.
Equality Now stands in support of the thousands of women who are speaking out about their sexual harassment. Please join us in calling on the EEOC to promote corporate transparency in sexual harassment cases, and enforce the right to be free from harassment at the workplace.
27 FEBRUARY 2017 UPDATE:Finally some action! Two of the seven suspects in Claudia's case have been sentenced to 15 years in prison! They were charged for both the rape and for distributing the video of the assault. This is a major advance in our quest for justice for Claudia with our partners The Vance Center for Human Rights and CLADEM-Brazil. However, we are still keeping up the pressure on Brazilian authorities to capture and arrest the remaining suspects. Although 30 suspects were initially implicated in the case, only seven have been charged and of those, five remain fugitive.
Additionally, this spring, with prominent Rio-based law firm, Mattos Filho, we plan to bring together civil society organizations to address the gang rape, to advocate for better systems to stop the impunity for violence against women and girls and the inadequate and improper police responses to adolescent victims. During the meeting, Equality Now and our partners will also host a strategy session to explore potential litigation and further advocacy options for Claudia’s case. We also raised this issue to the UN Human Rights Committee which will be reviewing Brazil this year as part of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedures.
In May 2016, 16-year-old 'Claudia' woke naked to the frightening sight of over 30 men with weapons taunting her and calling her names. Terrified, and only being able to recall last being at her boyfriend’s house, she quickly grabbed some clothes from the floor and ran out. She later came to find out that she had been drugged and gang-raped in a location dubbed “the slaughterhouse” when a humiliating video posted by her attackers went viral.
The assault ignited worldwide outrage and four women – strangers to Claudia – came to her aid, helping her to report the crime and get medical attention. Sadly, victim-blaming was the response. The authorities completely disregarded Claudia’s report and instead treated her as if she were the criminal. One male police officer even asked if “she liked group sex.” Thankfully, the group of women helped her once again. She got a new investigator, a woman, who held a thorough investigation and supported her claim of rape. The Public Prosecution Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro also offered Claudia protection from reprisals, including threats “to microwave her” if she reported the rapes, and arrested two of the men.
However, months later, only seven of the estimated 30 suspects have been charged, and, of those, only two -- Sergio Luiz da Silva Junior (known as “da Russia”) and Moises Camilo de Lucena (known as “Canario”) -- have been arrested. All the remaining men are still at large. The most viable evidence is collected within the immediate hours after an assault. Given the poor reporting systems and lack of coordinated efforts between sexual assault examiners and law enforcement, the opportunity to collect the best evidence may have passed. This undermines the ability to bring forward a strong prosecution.
Right now, the eyes of the world are on Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics, The government has the opportunity to take a strong public stand against the culture of sexual violence that has plagued Brazil for decades.
Sexual violence in Brazil and the inadequate response to it are alarming, with assaults most often aimed at the most vulnerable. 51% of recorded rapes are reportedly committed against girls up to age 13 and nearly 20% are against adolescent girls aged between 14 – 17. Equality Now’s partners inform us that Brazilian victims endure multiple interviews by law enforcement that are insensitive at best and, at worst, as in this case, outright hostile. There have been attempts in the Brazilian parliament to eliminate access to any reproductive care for women, even those who have been raped. While Brazilian women already face severe restrictions in accessing reproductive care, there have always been legal exemptions based on rape. These new attempts to curtail women’s rights are therefore alarming. As it is, access to legal abortion is not always available for victims of sexual violence. Brazil only has 37 health centers that provide the service for more than 5,000 cities. As these centers are concentrated in the bigger urban areas, thousands of women and girls have no resources at all.
The solutions to protect victims and ensure justice universally are clear:
1. Perpetrators must be arrested and charged to the full extent of the law.
2. Law enforcement must have regular training and employ a victim-sensitive approach in sexual assault cases.
3. First responders must provide forensic examinations without undue delay or procedural barriers.
4. Governments must increase services to assist victims through the criminal justice process, so that they are not left to fend for themselves.
Brazil is bound by international law to address sexual violence, particularly under Article 7 of the Convention Belém do Pará which obligates states to prevent and punish violence against women. As already established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Campo Algodonero v Mexico), impunity for acts of violence against women reinforces a message that it is acceptable and tolerable. This is also echoed in the Committee to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women’s (CEDAW) General Recommendation 33 on access to justice, which calls for accountability in justice systems and remedies for victims.Victims must have access to justice from the inception of a case, with trained and sensitive investigators to completion, with restitution and services that will help survivors on the path to recovery. As Brazil works to improve responses to victims, law enforcement must bring all perpetrators to justice.
As Latin America’s most populous country, if Brazil were to ensure justice for Claudia it would help send the message not only in Brazil but to all other countries on the continent that sexual violence must be treated as a serious human rights violation. Please join Equality Now and our partners, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM) in Brazil and CLADEM Regional, and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, in calling on the Government of Brazil to:
- Arrest, charge and punish everyone responsible for raping Claudia and for publicizing this violent crime to the full extent of the law, and conduct the trial in a way that does not further victimize her
- Develop and incorporate adequate response systems, based on a human-rights and a gender sensitive approach, so that victims see that reporting will result in justice – including training for health care providers, the judiciary system and the police
- Explore all avenues of financial restitution for Claudia to help her rebuild her life