The Global Rape Epidemic - Equality Now

The Global Rape Epidemic

"We hope that this global report will open up a conversation to bring addressing sexual violence into the very centre of our collective thinking and action and to promote the right of women and girls everywhere to equality and to be free from violence."

-Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director

The World's Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic

Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences -- affecting close to a billion women and girls over their lifetimes. However, despite the pervasiveness of these crimes, laws are insufficient, inconsistent, not systematically enforced and, sometimes, promote violence. Since Equality Now’s founding in 1992, we have worked with survivors of rape and sexual assault to help them get justice and to push for measures to bring an end to this unacceptable crime. The report looks at how laws around the world are still failing to protect women and girls from sexual violence.

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“By rape, the victim is treated as a mere object of sexual gratification …without regard for the personal autonomy and control over what happens to his or her body…rape is one of the most repugnant affronts to human dignity and the range of dignity-related rights, such as security of the person and integrity of the person…”

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights: Communication 341/2007 – "Equality Now v Federal Republic of Ethiopia"

By any measure, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, is being inflicted on women and girls in epidemic proportions. If it were a medical disease, sexual violence would have the serious attention and the funding to address it, from governments and independent donors alike. Everyone reading this report is likely to have either survived, or to know someone who has experienced, some form of sexual violence.

An analysis of surveys on laws on rape and sexual assault from 82 jurisdictions

The findings and analysis in this report are a reflection of information and trends emerging from our review of surveys on sexual violence laws submitted by members of the legal profession in 82 jurisdictions-including within 73 UN member states-around the world. Information for this report was collected over a period of several months from late 2014 to late 2015 and changes may have been made to laws subsequently. We have included case studies from our work to illustrate the impact of discriminatory rape laws or weak enforcement of good laws. The report does not purport to be a definitive representation of the law in any country. Instead, it provides a general picture of laws on sexual violence in the countries surveyed and to highlight obstacles to justice for survivors of sexual violence. The findings illustrate that governments still have a long way to go to transform their laws, policies and practices into instruments to a) prevent sexual violence, b) provide better access to justice for victims (including specialised services) and c) effectively punish sexual violence crimes.

The report also provides links to active Equality Now country campaigns so that everyone can Take Action to urge relevant government officials to amend sex discriminatory laws. #theworldsshame #rapelawfail

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This report positions the information received from our surveys against these UN Women benchmarks. We identified seven gaps in rape and sexual assault laws:


Download the seven gaps in laws on rape and sexual assault.


Rape is a global epidemic and laws are failing women and girls. Call on governments and policymakers to fix laws on sexual violence and to ensure justice for survivors of sexual violence. Add your voice to our individual country campaigns below:

Iraq: Stop letting rapists go free - Repeal Article 398

Lebanon: Don’t let rapists & sexual harassers go free!

#theworldsshame #rapelawfail #EndVAW

Globally, governments have committed and recommitted to ending all forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence. In September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (“Agenda 2030”).
This includes to: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (Goal 5), “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres"" (Target 5.2), and “[e]
nsure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices….” (Target 10.3)."


The generous responses we received to the survey helped build a picture of the legal landscape in relation to sexual violence and are testament to the very many people who want this violence to end. This would not have been possible without their help and solidarity.

Equality Now would particularly like to thank the International Bar Association, our partner from the beginning, and to Meg Strickler, then Co-chair of the Criminal Law Committee, Olunfunmi Oluyede, then Chair of the Crimes against Women Sub-Committee and Gillian Rivers, then Chair of the Family Law Committee, who lent practical insights into these issues. They also co-hosted a well-attended and lively panel at the IBA international meeting in Vienna in October 2015 to get some helpful observations from practitioners and other interested legal professionals. Esther De Raymaeker, former Senior Legal Advisor of the Legal Projects Team at the IBA, was an early champion of this work, provided an analysis of the law in Belgium, wrote the Annex on promising practices and continues to offer her very welcome support. Stephen Denyer, then Head of City and International at The Law Society of England and Wales, went above and beyond and helped us access very many lawyers around the world as did Advocates for International Development (A4ID) which also brought us "

Ashurst, an international law firm, which provided enormous support and analysed the data from the surveys that was essential to distilling the key messages of this report. Union Internationale des Avocats circulated the surveys to its global membership for assistance and UCLA provided the maps that paint the important picture of where we are. We also could not have completed this without the help of our legal interns – Hollie Motley, Stephanie Needleman, Leonie Hamway, Louise Mbugua, Ebba Wigerström, Carmit Suliman and Imene Hamdi-Cherif who were all committed and passionate about this work and provoked some challenging questions to make it better. A full list of survey contributors is available at the end of the report.

Download Equality Now's report as SINGLE PAGES or HORIZONTAL SPREADS.


Countries where women still can't consent (Refinery29 UK)

There’s a Global Rape Epidemic and There Are Few Laws to Prevent it (Global Citizen)

Not Just India, Rape Laws Across The World Are Failing To Protect Women From Sexual Violence (India Times)

Laws in Africa failing to prevent rape (RFI)

Belgium and Greece among countries failing women on rape laws (Guardian)

Bad laws underpin global "rape epidemic", let rapists off the hook (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Demands for MPs to pass bill protecting women against sexual and domestic violence (The London Economic)

Rape victims should not be cross examined about their sexual history (Mirror)

Rape: Why is it so hard for countries to combat? (CNN)