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UN study sheds new light on discrimination against rape victims* “The Trial of Rape” study launch in Viet Nam

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Ha Noi, 21 March 2018 - The majority of victims of sexual assault in Thailand and Viet Nam face serious challenges in obtaining justice, and this is in part due to discriminatory attitudes and practices which discouraged, dismissed and disempowered them at every step in the justice process; from the initial reporting to trial, a new United Nations study has found.

The findings of the study ’The Trial of Rape: Understanding the Criminal Justice System Response to Sexual Violence in Thailand and Viet Nam,’ were shared at a workshop jointly held in Ha Noi on 21 March by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The study is the first such comparative study in the Asia-Pacific region.

In his opening remarks, Mr Kamal Malhotra, UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, emphasized that institutional responses to violence against women need to be tailored to the particular and diverse needs and priorities of women and girls. “Along with efforts to prevent violence in the first place, the justice sector’s response will be critical to ending the cycle of violence. It needs to send out a clear and unequivocal message that any violence against women and girls is unacceptable,” Mr Malhotra said. “Justice providers play a vital role in keeping women and girls safe, and holding perpetrators accountable,” he noted.

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The study analysed how the criminal justice systems in both countries respond to reported cases of rape and sexual assault of women. In total, the researchers reviewed 290 police or court case files and interviewed 213 people including government officials, judicial personnel, civil society activists, and providers of services to survivors.

The study focused on better understanding of the reasons for attrition-the process by which cases fail to proceed through the justice system, from the stage of filing the initial complaint, through investigations, to the decision whether to prosecute, and finally to the trial stage. It found that sexual assault survivors face significant societal, legal, and institutional barriers in policies and practices which contribute to high attrition rates. These include stereotypes about sexual assaults and how survivors are expected to look and behave, the informal settlements of complaints, frequent insensitive treatment of victims, and prolonged court proceedings which are often not sensitive to the traumatic experiences that sexual assault survivors endure.

Anna-Karin Jatfors, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, who presented the report, said: “The study found that there are pervasive barriers to justice for survivors of sexual assault that stem from not only difficulties in getting assistance, but also in the attitudes and biases of the police and justice officials tasked with providing assistance. Understanding what the barriers to justice are is a crucial first step to delivering justice to women and ending the widespread impunity in sexual violence. We hope this study will become an entry point for change in both countries.”

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Nick Booth, UNDP’s regional Programme Advisor on Governance, Conflict Prevention, Access to Justice and Human Rights, said: “Sexual violence is one of the most serious human rights violations women face, and it must be a priority for justice systems. This study highlights the limitations in referral networks and coordination mechanisms within the justice system, and with health and social welfare services, which prevent survivors of sexual violence getting the justice they deserve. Joined-up justice services are essential to overcome the challenge of impunity”.

The findings of this study reveal that the main factors in reported cases of rape contradict numerous commonly held myths and beliefs about rape. While there is a myth that ‘real rape’ involves strangers, force, physical injury and occurs in public, 86 per cent of victims reported knowing the suspect and 76 per cent of victims had no visible signs of injury in Viet Nam. These findings have important implications for how justice systems handle sexual crimes and interact with victims of sexual violence.

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A key strength of the study is the substantial engagement from the Governments of Thailand and Viet Nam in the research, which improves our shared understanding of the barriers in the administration of justice, and where to focus efforts to address them.

Snapshots of key findings from the research, are as follows:

Social factors that impact women’s access to justice and influence attrition: There is wide acceptance of myths about women and girls, and how incidents of sexual assault and rape occur, which interfere in women's and girls' ability to seek justice and have their cases taken seriously. Examples of these myths include:

  • Myth: 'Real rape' involves strangers, force, physical injury and occurs in public.
  • Finding: Most victims and suspects of sexual crimes know each other. The majority of cases reviewed had no documentation of physical injury, and the majority of reported sexual assaults happen in homes or hotels.
  • Myth: Rape and sexual violence are only a problem when it happens to 'good' or 'innocent' women and girls.
  • Finding: While rape can happen to anyone, the study found that many criminal justice providers hold beliefs about the 'ideal' sexual assault victim. For example, the 'ideal victim' should demonstrate intense fear, helplessness, horror or strong emotions. Victims who recount their experiences in a cold or detached manner do not fit the idea of appropriate behavior, and therefore their stories are not seen as credible.
  • Myth: Some women deserve to be raped and sexually assaulted; it is their own fault.
  • Finding: Women were often blamed for the sexual violence they suffered. Reasons for this range from being thought to be a 'sex worker', to dressing provocatively, going out in the evening with a man, or being alone on a bus at night.

Legal and procedural factors relating to criminal procedural processes and their impact on attrition: In both countries, attrition occurred at all stages of the criminal justice process - reporting/initial contact stage; investigation stage; pre-trial stage; and trial stage. From the case file analysis, the research found victims were often made to repeat their stories multiple times, a process which can be humiliating, [and] exacerbate her trauma – and this can increase the likelihood of attrition. In turn, barriers such as these inhibit the reporting of sexual violence, and reduce the likelihood that a woman will persist in seeking redress through the criminal justice system.

Based on the findings, the report makes 9 priority recommendations to improve the situation. The report recommends that Viet Nam should establish quality essential justice services for victims that prioritize their protection and support. In addition, promoting an integrated and coordinated criminal justice, government and civil society response is critical.

Read the full study here:

http://bit.ly/2y77Otl or http://bit.ly/2FYIHZO

Media Inquiries:

  • Hoang Bich Thao, UN Women | phone: 84-24-38500376 | Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Nguyen Viet Lan, UNDP I phone: 84-24-38500158 | Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note to Editors:

* Victims used in the full report, the summary or in the press release irrespective of the outcome of the case, so includes complainants. Victim means a person recorded as the victim of sexual offence, including those cases subsequently deemed no offence or false allegations. The term “victim” is used as this is the common terminology for analysis of criminal justice data and is not intended to negate other terms such as “survivors”.

About UN Women

UN Women, or the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, works to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, to empower women, and to achieve equality between women and men. 

About UNDP

UNDP connects countries to knowledge, experience and resources so people can build a better life. It helps countries attract foreign aid and use it effectively. In all its activities, UNDP promotes gender equality and human rights.

About UNODC

UNODC is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and crime. UNODC integrates a gender perspective in its work, particularly in its projects to provide alternative livelihoods and to stop human trafficking.

About UNiTE Campaign

In support of this civil society initiative, each year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women (UNiTE) calls for global action to increase worldwide awareness and create opportunities for discussion about challenges and solutions of ending violence against women. UNiTE is an UN interagency campaign, with UN Women as the coordinating agency. In 2010, UNiTE Campaign launched the regional campaign in the Asia-Pacific region. In recent years, the UNiTE campaign has utilized the colour orange as a unifying theme running through all of its global activities. Orange is one of the official colours of the UNiTE campaign, as conceptualised by the Asia-Pacific UNiTE Youth Network. In the context of its global advocacy, the orange colour used as a symbol of a brighter future without violence against women and girls.

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