Skip to main content

The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic

Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences — affecting close to a billion women and girls over their lifetimes. However, despite the pervasiveness of these crimes, laws are insufficient, inconsistent, not systematically enforced, and, sometimes, promote violence.

To get to the bottom of these legal failures, Equality Now teamed up with international legal professionals to look into rape and sexual assault laws in 82 jurisdictions within 73 UN member states. If it were a medical disease, sexual violence would have serious attention and the funding to address it, from governments and independent donors alike.

In our February 2017 advocacy report, The World’s Shame – The Global Rape Epidemic: How Laws Around the World are Failing to Protect Women and Girls from Sexual Violence, we identify seven key gaps in global rape laws and call on governments and policymakers to fix them and to ensure justice for survivors of sexual violence.

The findings illustrate that governments still have a long way to go to transform their laws, policies, and practices into instruments to

  • prevent sexual violence
  • provide better access to justice for victims (including specialized services), and
  • effectively punish sexual violence crimes.


The generous responses we received to the survey helped build a picture of the legal landscape in relation to sexual violence and are a testament to the very many people who want this violence to end. This would not have been possible without their help and solidarity.

Equality Now would particularly like to thank the International Bar Association, our partner from the beginning, and to Meg Strickler, then Co-chair of the Criminal Law Committee, Olunfunmi Oluyede, then Chair of the Crimes against Women Sub-Committee and Gillian Rivers, then Chair of the Family Law Committee, who lent practical insights into these issues. They also co-hosted a well-attended and lively panel at the IBA international meeting in Vienna in October 2015 to get some helpful observations from practitioners and other interested legal professionals.

Esther De Raymaeker, former Senior Legal Advisor of the Legal Projects Team at the IBA, was an early champion of this work, provided an analysis of the law in Belgium, wrote the Annex on promising practices, and continues to offer her very welcome support.

Stephen Denyer, then Head of City and International at The Law Society of England and Wales, went above and beyond and helped us access very many lawyers around the world as did Advocates for International Development (A4ID).

Ashurst, an international law firm, provided enormous support and analyzed the data from the surveys that were essential to distilling the key messages of this report. Union Internationale des Avocats circulated the surveys to its global membership for assistance and UCLA provided the maps that paint the important picture of where we are.

We also could not have completed this without the help of our legal interns – Hollie Motley, Stephanie Needleman, Leonie Hamway, Louise Mbugua, Ebba Wigerström, Carmit Suliman, and Imene Hamdi-Cherif who were all committed and passionate about this work and provoked some challenging questions to make it better. A full list of survey contributors is available at the end of the report.