You may have read the New York Times article about rape in Norway:
Norway vies with its Nordic neighbors for the title of most gender-egalitarian country in the world. Yet gender equality still seems to stop at the bedroom door, and even here, women who recounted their experiences declined to be identified, fearful still of retribution.The point of the article is about the relationship between gender equality and rape, and it is well worth reading. But it is not true that the safest place for women in general is outside, because most rapes happen at home.
Sexual violence against women in Scandinavia shares characteristics seen in more unequal societies: It is all too common and rarely reported, and those who commit it are even more rarely convicted. Ancient prejudices about male prerogative and modern assumptions about female emancipation conspire to create a thick wall of silence, shame and legal ambiguity.
One in 10 Norwegian women over the age of 15 has been raped, according to the country’s largest shelter organization, the Secretariat of the Shelter Movement. But at least 80 percent of these cases are never brought to official attention and only 10 percent of those that are end in a conviction, the Justice Ministry says.
Nowhere is this taboo more stubborn than in the family home, long considered off-limits for law enforcement and the state.
“The statistics tell us that the safest place for women is outside, on the street — most rapes happen at home,” said Tove Smaadahl, general manager of the Shelter Movement. In a 2005 survey by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, 9 percent of female respondents in a relationship reported experiencing sexual assault.
“No, we don’t have equality between men and women,” Ms. Smaadahl said, “not until we have addressed the issue of relationship rape.”
This is because women (and men) spend less time outside than they spend at home, and the risk of rape must be related to that time spent. If a woman spends all her time out on the streets, as homeless women do, she will be raped.
That rape is usually not by strangers who jump out from the bushes is of course the real meaning of that statement, and the rest of the article argues that the Norwegian law and culture do not deal well with relationship rape.
Several issues in this article are worth pursuing. One is well expressed in this quote:
The first time her husband raped her, she said, he had become jealous when another man asked her to dance. “When we came home his eyes were totally black,” she said. “He was rough. He hurt me and I said, ‘No, no, no.’ Afterward he was sorry and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.”I would argue that the last sentence, which I bolded, is the very reason why so few rape cases come to the attention of the police, and not only in Norway.
Over the years, she camouflaged bruises with makeup. She saw less and less of her friends to avoid uncomfortable questions — and jealousy fits that so often set her husband off.
When she finally took her husband to court, he admitted beating and threatening her but was acquitted of the rape charges. The judge issued a one-year restraining order, and her own mother urged: “Go back to your husband.”
“This is why so few women go to the police,” lamented Inger-Lise W. Larsen, who has run Oslo’s main women’s shelter since 2007. “It takes a lot to come forward, and often, you get little in return.”
To give you an example from Finland, a woman went to a party at a friend's house, drank too much and fell asleep. A man whom she did not know then raped her.
She took the case to court. After three years' wait, the court gave the man a six-month conditional sentence. No prison, no fines, nothing.
The second point worth examining has to do with the main question of the article, that about possible connections between gender equality and rape:
Why is sexual violence still so prevalent in countries where gender equality has made such gigantic strides? Some experts, like Ms. Kelly, argue that as a society moves to redistribute power between genders, there might be a transitional period where violence rises as the last expression of male domination.What makes looking at this difficult are the same societal and legal problems and the same statistical limitations I discussed above.
“As women gain in status, earn more money and take their rightful place in society, some men may resort to their physical strength,” Ms. Kelly said, noting that most couple rape is ultimately based on a feeling of emasculation.
In the long term, most observers concur that the best antidote to violence is greater gender equality across the board. “The more independent women are from men and the more equal in terms of pay, status, education and everything else, the more likely are we to clamp down on this type of crime,” said Ms. Aas-Hansen of the Justice Ministry. “When a crime has happened in it, the bedroom ceases to be private.”
In certain sharia-based law systems, a rape must have four male witnesses. If a woman accuses a man of rape and fails to produce those male witnesses, she herself will then be charged with having had sex outside the marriage. The extreme punishment for that in some countries can be stoning.
Thus, it would surprising if we found high rates of reported rape in countries using the sharia, whatever the underlying rape rates might be. Indeed, the most likely numbers of reported rapes in such a system would be very close to zero. Those reported rates give us no information about the actual rates of rape.
In other words, we cannot make conclusions about the relationship between gender equality and rape from published international statistics that use reported rapes only. Women in more egalitarian societies are more likely to report rapes than women in less egalitarian societies, and the very definition of rape is going to be wider in the former than in the latter.
It could be the case, as the above quote states, that sexual violence rises as a response to women's increasing equality. But there are alternative explanations which should also be considered: wider reporting of rapes, an understanding that relationship rapes are rapes, too, and so on.