In many countries in CEE/FSU and around the world, rape or sexual assault is defined in the criminal code as nonconsensual or forced vaginal penetration. In Belarus, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, for example, rape is defined as sexual intercourse accomplished through force or physical violence (or the threat of such violence), or against a woman who is "defenceless" or "helpless." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States 76, 148, 183, 229, 244, 261, 406, 437, 487, 504 (9 November 2000). In Kazakhstan, in particular, "[r]ape is considered to have been committed from the moment of beginning sexual intercourse." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States 229 (9 November 2000). Some countries also prohibit other kinds of sexual abuse, although generally under a different provision of the criminal code. Georgia's Penal Code provides criminal penalties for "Violent acts of a sexual nature" and in Slovakia, "a new criminal offense entailing the 'sexual abuse of a woman other than by sexual intercourse' which is committed with violence or the immediate threat of violence is being prepared." From International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women 2000: An Investigation into the Status of Women's Rights in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States 183, 406 (9 November 2000).
Yet definitions that are limited to "penetration" exclude other kinds of sexual contact that can be equally as devastating to victims. Scholars have argued that such definitions indicate that a "male standard pervades legal definitions of rape, a crime overwhelmingly committed by men against women." By focusing on nonconsensual or forced vaginal penetration, "legal definitions emphasize the male perspective of the acceptable boundaries of heterosexual sex rather than the victim's experience of sexualized violence." From Dorothy Q. Thomas & Robin S. Levi, Common Abuses Against Women, in 1 Women and International Human Rights Law 139, 197 (Kelly D. Askin & Dorean M. Koenig eds. 1999). As Catherine MacKinnon explains: "The problem is that the injury of rape lies in the meaning of the act to its victim, but the standard for its criminality lies in the meaning of the act to the assailant. This means that the man's perceptions of the woman's desires determine whether she is deemed violated." From Catherine MacKinnon, Rape: On Coercion and Consent, reprinted in The Guises of Rape.
Alternative definitions of sexual violence may be found in the United Nations expert group report entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women" Section 4. For the Russian version of the report recommendations, click here.
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