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Leveraging Sexual Violence Laws for Survivor Justice: Rethinking Accountability 

During a recent LinkedIn Live event hosted by Equality Now titled “Leveraging Sexual Violence Laws for Survivor Justice: A Conversation on Accountability,” impassioned legal experts from around the world emphasized the importance of not only acknowledging the consequences that rape can have on women and girls but also shifting the focus to the root causes of inequality and a demand for accountability in combating sexual violence, particularly the pervasive crime of rape. Social, political, and economic disparities create fertile ground for such crimes to thrive, necessitating a multifaceted approach that encompasses legal, societal, and cultural transformation, all in pursuit of a world where survivor justice isn’t just a dream but a tangible reality.

Listen to the entire discussion here:

Addressing Sexual Violence Globally: What are the problems?

The response of society and governments to cases of rape often reflects ingrained biases and unequal power dynamics. The identity and status of the perpetrator, as well as the identity and perceived credibility of the survivor, influence how many cases are handled. This affects the pursuit of justice and shapes societal attitudes towards women’s rights and autonomy.

Survivors of sexual violence often face additional hurdles when seeking justice compared to victims reporting other crimes. Civil and criminal defamation cases are used to silence survivors and deter them from speaking out. This not only violates their right to be protected from violence but also perpetuates the cycle of abuse. 

Shifting Cultural and Societal Norms To Address Sexual Violence

One crucial shift in addressing violence against women is framing it as a matter of women’s fundamental right to sexual autonomy, expressed Vrinda Grover, Lawyer, and human and women’s rights activist in India. Women must be empowered to assert control over their bodies and sexual choices without fear of coercion or violence. This reframing highlights the importance of consent and challenges traditional notions of gender roles and power dynamics.

Leveraging Laws to End Sexual Violence

In many parts of the world, including India, legal definitions of rape have evolved to encompass a broader range of violations against women’s bodily integrity. It is important to have strong laws – however, the law alone cannot suffice. It must be properly implemented with a gender-sensitive approach and complemented by a shift in societal norms and attitudes towards gender equality, asserted Jacqui Hunt, Lawyer and Equality Now’s Global Lead, End Sexual Violence Campaign. 

In Africa, one region where cultural and religious factors influence legal interpretations, efforts to protect women’s rights must navigate complex terrain. Regional standards such as the Maputo Protocol can serve as powerful tools in safeguarding women and girls against violence, but their implementation must be tailored to local contexts, emphasized lawyer and Equality Now’s Program Officer, Ending Sexual Violence, Africa Office, Jean-Paul Murunga.

Understanding Sexual Violence Law Through A Gender-Sensitive Lens

While false reporting of sexual violence is rare, accusing a survivor of committing false accusations is often used to discredit survivors and undermine their credibility – it’s an issue that must addressed with nuance and sensitivity, explained Tamar Dekanosidze, Human Rights Lawyer and Equality Now’s Regional Representative in Eurasia. 

Justice systems must ensure that survivors are not further victimized by legal proceedings. In addition, the use of strategic litigation, guided by international human rights standards, can help combat these injustices and hold perpetrators accountable.

In Puerto Rico, the penal code addresses various scenarios for the absence of consent. The designation of specialized judges, prosecutors, and other groups of legal actors tasked with upholding the law through a gender-sensitive lens is a positive step toward proper implementation of these laws, shared Prosecutor, District Attorney at the Department of Justice in Puerto Rico, Irisel Collazo Nazario.

Ultimately, achieving justice for survivors of sexual violence requires a concerted effort to dismantle entrenched systems of inequality and discrimination. It demands a shift in societal norms, legal frameworks, and cultural attitudes towards gender and sexuality. Only then can we create a world where every individual, regardless of gender, can live free from the fear of violence and oppression.

Listen to the entire discussion here:

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