Countries that punish rapists with long punitive sentences are less likely to have a civil war and strife, new research has found.
“The transmission of rape laws across countries correlates with democratization and a general trend toward progressive laws. It proceeds then that countries are more likely to adopt gender-neutral laws and stricter laws against rape,” said the study’s lead author Nazli Avdan, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Kansas in the US.
The researchers paired a statistical analysis of data on rape legislation for 194 countries across the world from 1965 to 2005 with the number of civil wars over that time span.
The study, published in the journal Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, addresses an expanding body of research that argues that gender inequality heightens the probability of intrastate conflict by creating a structure of violence.
The researchers argued that nations that have laws that are gender neutral in how they protect citizens, especially in granting equal protection and rights to women, increase the chance that the state’s society would embody liberal and progressive norms.
“These norms cohere with ideas about peaceful conflict resolution,” Avdan said.
“These ideas in turn mitigate civil conflict,” she added.
The researchers found that countries that did little to punish perpetrators of rape likely include exemptions for the crime of rape if the perpetrator and victim are married, or possibly they treat genders differently under the law.
In other cases, some penal systems exonerate the assailant if he agrees to marry the rape victim.
“A so-called marriage loophole is a situation with a perpetrator is married to a victim would exonerate the assailant,” Avdan said.
“That is at its core a misogynistic policy. Countries with these policies – for example, Middle Eastern countries like Jordan and Lebanon but also other countries such as the Philippines — have received condemnation for not reforming these laws,” Avdan added.
The findings support research that has identified political liberalism and progressive, individualistic and emancipatory ideas, including gay rights, for example, tend to correlate with reduced propensities of armed conflicts.
“Rape law showcases an angle about gender norms,” Avdan said.
“And we know that masculine norms tend to support militarism and militant nationalism as well. Rape law can be another proxy to look at gender equality in society,” she added.