By Deepthika Appuhamy –
When I read Mr. Fazl’s article on rape and ‘preventative’ measures, I felt a mixture of disbelief and anger. I was angry at the antiquated and discriminatory views expressed in his piece and I felt disbelief that such views could be expressed on a public forum such as the Colombo Telegraph. Upon reflection however, I have resigned myself to accept that his views are not a rarity in our society. Rather, it festers widely within our community and provides fuel for would-be rapists and sexual predators.
I could respond to his comments in two distinct ways. I could firstly break down his arguments one by one and provide my two cents on why I think his views are misleading and dangerous. Secondly however, I could take the crux of his argument and try to understand why he (along with many other individuals in Sri Lanka) holds such a warped opinion on rape and how it exacerbates the plight of sexual assault victims. Therefore, I will not use this space to challenge the question posed by Mr. Muhammed Fazl, which I believe, does not deserve to be addressed or given any more extra attention. Rather, I will make an effort to provide an answer to the question of why some men rape. Why some men feel no remorse in blatantly violating the physical integrity of a woman, and why their comrades such as Mr. Fazl readily excuse their behaviour.
A multi-country study published by a syndicate of UN agencies provides some perspective on this issue. According to the study cited above, 66% of Sri Lankan men who perpetrated rape against women admitted that their motivation for rape was sexual entitlement, and only 34.2% of these respondents felt any remorse for their actions. The pivotal question these statics pose is two-tiered: what social and cultural constructs allow men to derive a feeling of sexual entitlement and why have we as a country and a region, fostered and molly-coddled individuals who hold such opinions?
The Sri Lankan education system, I believe, must bear a large portion of responsibility for the high rape rates. As a born and bred Sri Lankan, I endured more than 10 years of public education. The only form of sex education we received was a 5 page description of puberty and some indistinct pictures. Whilst some children (myself included), refer to thick volumes of encyclopaedias for our ‘birds and bees’ questions, most children (especially boys) satisfy their burning questions through internet pornography and hear-say of older, more experienced ‘aiyyas’ and ‘akkas’. Where is the conversation regarding intimacy, consent and mutual respect? Who teaches Sri Lankan children to protect themselves against sexual abuse and unwanted physical contact? How do young girls learn to believe that they are not subordinates of their male counterparts and do not need to say yes if they mean no? Who guides young boys to respect the physical integrity and personal space of others?
When our education system discourages any open discussion regarding sexual conduct, is it really surprising that young men with distorted feelings of sexual entitlement grow up thinking that they have a right to accost any woman sexually? And if our education system does not teach young boys of their responsibility to respect their female counterparts, is it really such a shock that men such as Mr. Fazl feel no guilt in victim blaming and shaming?
The distorted minds created by the local education system are then nurtured through our criminal justice system. In my line of work at the Sri Lankan criminal court system, I have personally witnessed the fear and guilt that victims experience whilst on the witness stand. To put it succinctly, they are raped over again by an unsympathetic criminal justice system. Whilst statues in countries such as the UK severely restrict evidence of prior sexual history of the victim in rape trials, personal history of the victim is open season for Sri Lanka defence lawyers. Furthermore, rape cases drag on for decades at which point, many victims lose all hope for legal redress.
The antiquated Sri Lankan statutes on sexual assault further blight the already apathetic criminal justice system. For instance, the principle enactment of law on rape found in section 363 of the Penal Code, fails to outlaw marital rape. Marital rape has been outlawed in most countries for decadesand intimate partner violence is considered to be as equally atrocious as non-partner rape. Moreover, under Section 364, the punishment for gang rape and rape of a minor under the age of 18 ranges from a measly seven years to a maximum of twenty. Appallingly, 97% of Sri Lankan men who admit to raping a woman do not face any form of legal consequences. It is time for the Sri Lankan legislature to engage in an introspective discussion of whether the current law imposes a sufficient degree of legal deterrence against sexually motivated crimes.
When rapists and sexual predators are provided with an environment which fosters gender discrimination and misogyny, we will continue to mourn the demise of another young woman at the hands of warped minds. When we allow individuals such as Mr. Fazl to freely provide justifications for heinous acts going against the very fundamental principles of humanity, we obliquely encourage predators to carry out their attacks with no reservations.
Vithya’s unimaginable torture and indescribably tragic demise has opened up the usually dormant discussion of rape prevention in Sri Lanka. It has brought to light, the pressing need for stricter legal deterrence against rape and the plight of countless women who have fallen victim to rape and sexual assault long before Vithya’s brutal murder. In light of the gang rape and murder of an 18 year old school child, any opinion piece on rape must contribute constructively to the discussion of rape prevention. It must not apportion blame on the victim or hold women responsible for their own suffering. As Germaine Greer rightly states, ‘guilt is one side of a nasty triangle; the other two are shame and stigma. This grim coalition combines to inculpate women themselves of the crimes committed against them’. Mr. Fazl’s article embodies everything indicated by Dr. Greer and for that reason, must reproached.
 ‘Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?: Quantitative findings from the United Nations Multi-Country study on men and violence in Asia and the Pacific’, < http://unwomen-asiapacific.org/docs/WhyDoSomeMenUseViolenceAgainstWomen_P4P_Report.pdf> Accessed 26th May 2015.
 Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
 Admittedly, some minor legislation on domestic violence discusses marital rape, but this is neither comprehensive nor
 Eg: by the decision of R v R (1991) in the UK and even in Asian countries such as Thailand in 2007 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6225872.stm)