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Challenges in monitoring certain types of violence against women and girls

There are challenges with monitoring certain types of violence against women and girls:

  • Domestic violence and sexual harassment should be measured as courses of conduct.  Both of these types of violence involve multiple, separate acts which should be considered as a pattern of violence against women and girls. For example, the Italian government’s 2006 nationwide survey on violence against women found that a third of the women surveyed experience both physical and sexual violence, and that the majority of victims experience several violence episodes.

See: section on Domestic Violence and see: Sexual Harassment: Explore the Issue, Stop VAW,The Advocates for Human Rights.

Case Study: Monitoring Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean – A Desk Study as a First Step in a Multi-Country Research Project Reveals Difficulties in Establishing Comparable Data

In 2010, the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) released a report on sexual violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).  The report was a first step towards compiling and comparing current research on sexual violence in the LAC region, and thereby identifying gaps in research, as well as successful monitoring practices. The report focused on finding any information relevant to understanding the prevalence of sexual violence, the risk factors associated with sexual violence, policy and legal frameworks in existence to address sexual violence, and the availability of services for victims of sexual violence. 

To compile the report, over 200 documents were read and analyzed, including both published and unpublished work. Grey literature was sought through internet-based searches and by soliciting the help of current experts working in the region.  Online databases, such as Pubmed, Web Science, Popline, Medline, Sociological Abstracts, and Redalyc, were used to search out articles from peer reviewed journals and book chapters. Further, the report addressed numerous government documents and reports from national and international organizations. The preliminary findings of this report were presented at SVRI’s Roundtable on Sexual Violence in the LAC Region in 2009, and those in attendance were asked to provide any additional research available for inclusion in the report.

Several gaps in monitoring research were found as a result of this project. For example, about half of the research analyzed for the report had been conducted in either Brazil or Mexico, indicating that there is severe lack of research on the rest of the LAC region. Further, the majority of studies focused on the perspective of female victims, and research on males as either victims or perpetrators was near non-existent.  Very few studies successfully integrated qualitative and quantitative methods and few mentioned the ethical issues inherent in studying such a sensitive topic.

Finally, there were numerous discrepancies in the vocabulary employed to discuss sexual violence. Consequently, many studies and reports cannot be compared because of the fundamental differences in terminology used or definitions relied upon. The report concluded that the best monitoring research was achieved when questionnaires were designed after preliminary research was conducted to understand the cultural vocabulary used to discuss sexual violence.

The report also found that the willingness of survey and interview participants to disclose their experiences with sexual violence depended on a variety of factors, including the number of questions, type of data collection, type of questions, and the assurances given regarding confidentiality and privacy. The report found that women were often more likely to divulge experiences of sexual violence when asked questions about specific acts of violence, rather than being asked broad questions about “abuse.”

This report did identify some useful studies that had been conducted recently, including narrative studies on cultural experiences of gender norms and sexual violence, quantitative studies on the prevalence of sexual violence using population based sample sizes, and situational analyses of under-documented types of sexual violence, such as sexual harassment, child sex abuse, trafficking, and sexual violence in conflict areas. The report ends with a list of recommendations, both as regards policy and programs designed to assist victims and end sexual violence and future research priorities aimed at better understanding the state of sexual violence in the LAC region. A necessity for future research, according to this report, is a strengthened focus on combining qualitative and quantitative methods to better understand gender norms in different cultures.

Contreras, J.M.; Bott, S.; Guedes, A.; Dartnall, E. “Sexual violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: A desk review,” Sexual Violence Research Initiative (2010).

 

  • Monitors must ensure that marginalized population groups such as the girl child, the elderly, ethnic minorities, women in detention, and the disabled are included in any monitoring studies on violence against women and girls.

CASE STUDY: Women in Detention: A Guide to Gender-Sensitive Monitoring

Women in prisons and women who are suspected of committing criminal offenses are an especially vulnerable group due to their gendered role in society and intensified by the prison experience. Monitors should be aware of international human rights instruments which apply to this population such as the UN Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). The guide states that monitors should not only use a gendered perspective in designing a monitoring study, they must be aware of and monitor aspects of detention that are opportunities for abuse. For example, admission procedures and medical examinations should be assessed and monitored, separation of genders within prison facilities, the gendered aspects of supervision, safe transfers of prisoners, and policies and practices of searching prisoners should be aspects of the monitoring study. Monitors should also consider the many aspects of gender-specific hygiene, healthcare and reproductive needs. The guide identifies certain categories of women who are at additional risk: girls, victims of sex trafficking, indigenous women, women with disabilities, and lesbians. It describes the composition of a good monitoring team and offers tools and resources for additional reading. Penal Reform International and The Association for the Prevention of Torture, Women in Detention: A Guide to Gender-Sensitive Monitoring (2013). Available in English.

 

  • When monitoring harmful practices such as FGM, monitors should incorporate questions regarding community practices in case new substitutes for illegal practices have been devised.
  • Monitors should track promising practices and their results, such as innovative remedies for victims of domestic violence, new methods of achieving victim safety, and advances in public awareness.  For example, countries may allow potential victims of FGM to obtain orders for protection, or incorporate sexual violence provisions in the policies of universities and other institutions. See:  Indicators on violence against women and state response, p. 31 and Higher Education Protocols, www.stopvaw.org, The Advocates for Human Rights.

Case study: National Center Against Violence in Mongolia monitors sexual violence and rape prevalence and policy

In 2008, the National Center Against Violence in Mongolia completed a monitoring study on sexual violence, rape and relevant legislation. The purpose of the study was to assess the implementation of rape laws, including situations of marital rape, incest, and date rape in Mongolia, and to develop policy and programme recommendations to better protect victims.  The researchers collected data from 700 respondents, including 100 legal professionals. They reviewed existing policies and documents, and applied both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

They surveyed the prevalence of each form of rape: Half of all respondents reported being a victim of marital rape. Only one in ten said that they would seek help from others for this crime, because of family reputation and the fact that law enforcement does not recognize it as a crime. No single incident of a marital rape has ever been recorded, according to their research.

The researchers also found that date rape is a common occurrence among teenagers and young people.  34.2% of the respondents said that date rape occurs “often.” The study found that date rape remains unreported unless serious consequences, such as STDs or unwanted pregnancy, occur. Eight out of ten respondents reported that there is insufficient public awareness of date rape.

The study surveyed the public awareness and attitude toward incest using a questionnaire directed at 100 people ages 18-58. Four in ten respondents said that incest did occur in Mongolian homes, and half of these said that a step-daughter was the most vulnerable potential victim. This was supported by a review of legal cases: most of the perpetrators were stepfathers. The questionnaire also revealed that key reasons for not reporting incest are that the victim is under the control of the perpetrator and believes that law enforcement would not respond to the case.  The researchers found that victims of incest and date rape mainly approach NGOs for help.

Monitors found that the majority of rape cases were dismissed during the investigation either because there was no “hard evidence” that the victim objected to the rape or no force was used in the rape. If the forensic report does not indicate any physical injury, the case is dropped.

Monitors found many barriers to a victim-centered state response: Victims must give statements repeatedly, there are no officers who specialize in victim psychology or the dynamics of rape, victims are blamed, treated like criminals and forced to wait for hours or days for police help, or are told to find the criminal themselves. These factors discourage victims from pursuing a criminal case and thus most of them accept a financial settlement to leave the case.

The monitors made a number of recommendations, including:

  • Amend Mongolian law to create separate provisions on incest, marital rape, and date rape. 
  • Amend rape laws to reflect rape without force and rape by deception.
  • Amend rape laws to include compensation and restitution provisions.
  • Train female officers to conduct investigations using protocols which protect victim privacy and safety.
  • Develop a code of ethics for vulnerable victims and monitor conduct of law enforcement officers for compliance with the code.
  • Crisis centers for victims of sexual violence should offer legal, medical, psychological and rehabilitative services.