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Impunity for rape

Many sexual assaults go unpunished given that victims often fail to report them

In Spain an average of three rapes are reported every day — that’s one every eight hours. While the 1,161 cases recorded in 2011 represent a decline of 16 percent compared with the total reported five years ago, the number of assaults remains stable, with just a few minor variations. This suggests that nothing has changed regarding the conditions that make this form of violence against women possible. Rape and gender violence have their roots in the same culture of male chauvinism. In fact, judicial statistics reflect only part of the problem. Experts estimate that only about half of the sexual assaults that take place are ever reported. A survey carried out in Catalonia in 2010 revealed that 2.9 percent of women said they had been raped at some time in their lives.

Some rapes take place in the context of the victim’s previous relationships, or in family or workplace surroundings, and very often they go unpunished because the victims do not dare to report them or to face the consequences. The aftermath of post-traumatic stress, phobias, anxiety and depression is worsened by the anxiety of a criminal trial. While it is true that modern police and judicial procedures have eliminated — or greatly attenuated — the former bias that often led to women being blamed for their own misfortune, the process of identification, accusation and court trial is always painful, because its forces the victim to relive a humiliating and traumatic experience.

This is why it is important to revise and reinforce all the measures oriented toward accompanying the victims, to mitigate the negative effects of their experience as far as possible, while at the same time strengthening their confidence in the system, so that fewer rapes go unpunished simply because they are not reported.

Recently, there has been a notable increase in the use of so-called “date rape” drugs, substances that a would-be aggressor uses to spike a potential victim’s drink. Between 10 and 20 percent of sexual assaults are now perpetrated with the aid of these substances, according to studies carried out in France and England. As such, there is an urgent need for information and prevention campaigns, especially among adolescents, to minimize situations of risk. These would also serve to better identify the personality and behavioral profiles associated with this type of imposition and maltreatment, before it is too late.

Meanwhile, further work to combat the cultural factors upon which violence against women is founded is of fundamental importance. Though the factors that lead to a sexual assault may include a component of sexual drive, or the urge to let out deep insecurities and frustrations, what makes these assaults possible is a culture that conceives sexual relations as a form of exercising power in order to achieve the submission of a woman, who is considered to be an object to be used at will. This is why there needs to be more emphasis on using education to foster a model of masculinity based on respect and equality.

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