The brutal murder of Joanna Yeates marked an important point in the battle to make UK legislation more gender-friendly. Especially with the nature of the crime, apparently there was nothing overtly hateful about the 33-year old Dutch engineer Vincent Tabak’s conduct towards Ms. Yeates. She had suffered 43 injuries, including wounds to her face, throat and arms having been asphyxiated; Tabak’s personal pornographic favourite. Certainly, these actions can be described as violent crimes; but why does legislation lead us to believe these are not actions of hate?
According to UK hate crime legislation, any criminal offence that is motivated by the perpetrator’s hostility, prejudice or indeed hatred based upon the victim’s perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability is classified under this law. However, in 2008-09 domestic violence moved out from Hate Crimes to be managed under the Violence against Women (VAW) Strategy. Despite, a minimum of 47,000 women being raped every year, the crime is categorised under a ‘grey area,’ using age-old ‘victim blaming’ tactics and thus sexism has been driven out of the hate crime agenda.
History and present day evidence needs to be accounted for, in order to understand the ideology behind rape as well as comprehend the vast contradictions that surround rape legislation. Currently, in some countries, Governments reinforce the idea that rape is the fault of women and in actual fact; it is considered “illegal sex.” Women in Pakistan could previously be punished with up to 15 years in prison, or even be executed for illegal relations. There is little distinction between consensual sex and rape.
And it isn’t only in countries which practice Sharia law. Rape has been used as a form of punishment for lesser crimes. In Meerwala village in the Punjab in 2002, a tribal “jury” claimed that an 11-year-old boy from the Gujar tribe, Abdul Shakoor, had been walking unescorted with a 30-year-old woman from the Mastoi tribe, which “dishonoured” the Mastois. The tribal elders decided that to “return” honour to the group, the boy’s 18-year-old sister, Mukhtaran Bibi, should be gang-raped.
Four men, including one of the “jury”, immediately dragged the girl to a hut and raped her while up to a hundred men laughed and cheered outside. She was then forced to walk naked through the village to her home. It took a week before the police even registered the crime – as a “complaint”. Rape in this case is used as a tool of controlling the social hierarchy, and keeping women in their place. There’s no doubt that these notions reinforce women to be secondary citizens with no claim over their bodies, hence even UK legislation is guilty of lessening the felony by not referring to it as a hate crime.
Equally within Greek and Roman mythology, the narrative consists of Zeus, “the father of Gods and men,” continually ‘divinely’ raping both earth-bound women and Goddesses, basing an entire belief system on gender-hatred. In the “History of Misogyny,” Jack Holland refers to Ancient Greece and the evident “supply [of] bad girls to cater for men’s sexual appetites,” as Solon (6th Century Athenian lawgiver) had legalised brothels staffed by “slaves and aliens.” It is immediately apparent that a class hierarchy had been created based on the maltreatment of certain women as well as ethnic minorities through the idea of forced sex, branding women either “virgin” or “whore.” And these principles had been further reaffirmed within the history of Christianity, with the primary female characters labelled only in terms of their sexuality. It is a worrying thought that whole nations found their faith on prejudice.
Perhaps if we had countries that had historically legalised bigoted name-calling and brothels in which people practiced the art of degrading others for their differences; then we would have a similar ambiguity in terms of racism and religion within hate crime legislation. The politics behind rape is that it is a device used to establish women’s place in society, through its discriminatory use in punishment, self-degradation and submission and not the usual stated case of “fulfilling sexual urges.” The only urge it seeks to achieve is one of domination.
Currently in South Africa, we see “corrective rape” being used against LGBT individuals purportedly as a means of “curing” them of their non-heterosexual sexual orientation or gender identity. In April 2011, Noxolo Nogwaza was raped by eight men and murdered in KwaThema Township near Johannesburg, as a case of “corrective rape.”
And it seems to be on the increase with more than 10 lesbians per week being raped and gang-raped in Cape Town alone. Very few cases of rape against lesbians have ever resulted in a conviction, which is unsurprising for a patriarchal system and demonstrates that rape is far from being a merely a sexual act. However, activists have been campaigning to make authorities recognise corrective rape as a hate crime, a similar action that needs to be taken in the UK.
Importantly, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution which noted the significance of rape used as a mass weapon of war. The Council stated that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” They also believe that by noting that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide,” the resolution will strike a blow at the culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence in conflict zones and allows rapists to walk without fear of punishment.
When referring to genocide, rape was instrumental to ‘breed out’ entire races in areas such as Australia, America, Europe as well as Africa, as a form of preserving “racial purity.” It has been labelled under modern scientific terms as ‘eugenics,’ but in actual fact, it was racial genocide through means of rape. Manfred Nowak, a UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has even stated that “Rape is always torture.” So why is it that rape can be seen as a war crime, yet be ambiguous of being categorised under hate crimes?
The patriarchal rhetoric throughout history which has allowed religion and politics to dictate women’s actions has contributed to the idea that women do not have a right over their bodies by their counterparts; hence rape that is actually an act of misogyny is seen to be a misnomer. Violence against women clearly is not just an act in a vacuum; it is symptomatic of the prejudices women have faced right up until the present day. It is essential that universal legislation is implemented across the spectrum, stating that rape is a hate crime in order for ambiguity and finger-pointing at other country’s laws to eventually dissipate.
Read an in-depth analysis on Violence against Women as a Hate Crime by Dr. Julia Long, openDemocracy