Sexual Assault Laws That Discriminate Against Women

Every now and then we read or hear about outrageous laws dedicated to protect patriarchy, defend rape culture, restrict women’s sexuality, or that are just plain discriminatory. We have three examples of such outrageous laws and proposals. One has been overturned (Italy’s rape law); one is being considered (Indonesia’s motorcycle law); and one continues to be both discriminatory and horribly sexist (Iran’s rape law).

The province of Aceh in Indonesia is proposing that women riding behind a man on a motorcycle should no longer be allowed to straddle the bike, since this might “provoke the driver.” A woman riding on her own may straddle the bike, but only if she is wearing proper attire. Not only is the law absurd in its own and reminiscent of the days when women had to ride “sidesaddle” on horses, but it also seems that “side saddling” a motorcycle could be a great safety hazard. The proposal also infers that in order for men to not to get “excited” and act on that excitement, women need to control their sexuality, while men are assumed to not be able to–or need to–control theirs.  Many of us have been angered when hearing the countless sexist, racist, and misogynist statements made by Italy’s former prime minister and “bad boy” Silvio Berlusconi (not to mention his love for underage girls and prostitutes). But in light of previous rulings in cases dealing with women’s rights, it is perhaps not surprising that such an extremely sexist and misogynist president was allowed in office. In a 1999 case involving the rape of an 18-year-old woman by a 45-year-old man, the Italy’s highest court ruled that a woman wearing tight jeans could not be raped. The reasoning behind that statement was that it is impossible to remove tight jeans without the consent or even help of the victim. Thanks to feminist campaigning, the law was overturned–almost a DECADE later.

Not only is homosexuality and sodomy forbidden and punishable by death in Iran, but the country also has a rape/sexual crime law that is completely unacceptable, and that is certain to keep conviction rates extremely low. In order for sex crimes to be heard in court, the claim needs to be confirmed by four male adult witnesses. It is highly unlikely that in cases of sex crimes and rape, four male witnesses are present and ready to stand as witnesses. If in fact there were four adult males at the scene, why did no one intervene? And why is it so mind-blowingly difficult to trust the statement and witness reports of four, or even one woman? When it comes to raping a minor, the laws are equally shoddy and dependent on patriarchal interpretation:

 …raping a minor is a crime only if the sex act is conducted outside religiously sanctioned relationships. Therefore, an adult man who forces sex on a nine-year-old girl is not considered to have committed a crime if the victim’s father agrees that the rapist can marry his daughter.

When laws are passed that discriminate directly against women the underlying message is that women are inferior to men, and that treating them as such is warranted. These laws have no place in modern society and should be considered crimes against human rights.

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