Why do some men rape? Looking for reasons behind gender based violence in Asia and the Pacific

Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?

We know that gender based violence (GBV) is a problem with widespread social and economic impacts. In Papua New Guinea, there are staggeringly high rates of family and sexual violence, and our own research has highlighted the culture of impunity stemming from low conviction rates in Lae.

GBV is an area that still suffers from a chronic data shortage. Information on the underlying causes of the violence has been especially hazy, often blamed on a vague cocktail of culture, conflict and attitudes towards women.

So why do some men use violence against women?

That’s exactly the question a new report from Partners for Prevention sets out to answer, drawing on data from the UN Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific.

The report, which covers six study sites in the Asia-Pacific (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Bougainville in Papua New Guinea) and surveys 10,000 men, has attracted a lot of media attention since its launch on September 10.

Here’s a handful of the headline-grabbing stats from the report and a quick video summary:

  • More than 1 in 10 men surveyed reported forcing a woman who was not their partner to have sex. When partners were included, the figure rose to 24%.
  • Of those men who had admitted to rape, the vast majority (72-97% in most sites) did not experience any legal consequences.
  • Overall, half (49%) of the men who reported having raped a woman did so for the first time when they were teenagers. In Bougainville, the rate was 64%.
  • More than 65% of men in Bougainville reported experiencing emotional abuse or neglect as children. These men were at least twice as likely to use violence against a female partner.

Beyond the fast facts, there is a wealth of information in this report, too much to fully explore in a single blog post.

For those with a specific interest in PNG, there are some fascinating findings, even though the survey was only undertaken in Bougainville so it is not nationally representative.

In Bougainville, compared to the five other sites, the study found:

  • The highest lifetime rate of men perpetrating rape (59.1%) against a partner.
  • The highest lifetime rate of men perpetrating physical violence (61.9%) against a partner.
  • The highest rate of men perpetrating emotionally abusive acts against a partner (83.2% having perpetrated at least one act, 66% perpetrating three or more acts of insults, belittlement, humiliation, intimidation, threats of harm and hurting others or damaging things).
  • The highest rate (closely followed by Cambodia) of men perpetrating economically abusive acts (56.9%) against a partner. This includes acts such as denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, denial of food and basic needs and controlling access to health care and employment.
  • The highest rate of men reporting perpetration of gang rape (14%).
  • The highest rate of men reporting perpetration of non-partner rape (40.7%). Only the Papua site in Indonesia came close to this figure (23.4%).
  • The highest rate of men reporting raping other men (7.6%).

Yet, in Bougainville, men surprisingly reported much higher rates of being arrested or jailed than other study sites. The report doesn’t delve too far into the reason for this unexpected statistic, though it does note that in Bougainville this interpretation included traditional forms of community-based detention and arrest. Men in Bougainville also reported much higher rates of punishment or retaliation from friends, family or community members than in other study sites. The higher levels of retaliation, detention or arrest may also be a consequence of Bougainville men also reporting the highest prevalence for non-partner rape—the study found overall that men who perpetrated partner rape were much less likely to face legal consequences.

There is a discrepancy in the level of reporting of violence between the women and men surveyed in Bougainville, with men reporting a higher prevalence of intimate partner violence than women. This difference is a reminder of the inherent challenges in gathering this type of data. The report suggests a number of reasons for this: that in contexts in which partner violence is rela­tively normalised, there is less shame and stigma for men to admit perpetrating violence than for women to admit experiencing it; where impunity is common, women’s fear of further violence is likely greater than men’s fear of legal repercussions; and that men (and women) may fail to recog­nise the coercive nature of their (or their partner’s) behaviour when it comes to sex within marriage.

The most common motivation that men reported for rape perpetration was related to sexual entitlement—men’s belief that they have the right to sex (71% in Bougainville and also across all sites). The second was for fun or due to boredom (63% in Bougainville), followed by anger or punishment. Alcohol was the least common motivation given by men.

Bougainville was one of two post-conflict sites in the study—the other was Papua in Indonesia. On the whole, these two sites showed the highest levels of GBV, but the report authors wrote that it was ‘impossible to know to what extent this common feature is a product of their being in a similar geographic area and possibly having cultural commonalities’ or due to the history of conflict.

Ashlee Betteridge is a Research Officer at the Development Policy Centre.

image_pdfDownload PDF

Ashlee Betteridge

Ashlee Betteridge was the Manager of the Development Policy Centre until April 2021. She was previously a Research Officer at the centre from 2013-2017. A former journalist, she holds a Master of Public Policy (Development Policy) from ANU and has development experience in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. She now has her own consultancy, Better Things Consulting, and works across several large projects with managing contractors.


  • As mothers and sisters, we women, have to take responsibility of giving our boys enough love, care and good values so much so that the new definition of masculinity should be standing up against peer pressure, injustice with all using the God’s gift (physical strength) to the benefit of all. I somehow feel this is also rooted in greed, entitlement, low esteem (she is anyway going to say no to me and I am going to teach her a lesson) and also male ego. Men ,according to me, are not very strong mentally, they will do only things for which they get appreciated for or acknowledged by friends or stronger men. There is an undercurrent which glorifies rape and violence against women. It definitely has it roots in our homes, the mother who this little boy spends his initial stages of life with….Hardly there are any fathers who are keen in bringing up their kids. They come home, watch tv, read newspaper, order tea/coffee and once in awhile the kid sees mom and dad fighting over some extramarital affairs. Kids are not receiving the right signals.

    Avoiding divorce is not the sucess of a marriage or good parent, the real meaning lies in our effort.

  • Very sad, but useful reading. Thanks for reading the whole document and providing a very good summary. Edward

  • Eve teasing to physical torture are all about a sense of ability to overpower the weaker who are taken for granted. Overpowering can be in many forms and can have varied reasons some of which even may not be directly linked to the victim. Reasons are going to stay for a long time and can be smoothed only with decades of corrective efforts. The biggest challenge is how to combat overpowering so that one dare not bring the intention in mind? Already many countries have taken steps through implementation of toll free rescue numbers, stringent punishments if one proved guilty but these steps may not stop one from immediate reaction to overpower the weaker. By the time actions initiate, the weaker might already been overpowered. Definitely then something weaker has to only do. Weaker has to devise new ways to secure, quick ways to inform so that threats can be controlled if not omitted. With this, weaker may not then any more be considered as weaker and taken for granted stamp will slowly disappear. As a society then we have to cull out innovative practices to support the currently weaker section of mankind and help them devising ways of their own to face the every day challenges. It has to be more of pulling exercise that need to be brought in rather than pushing of laws, policing and other stuff.

  • Ashlee,

    Amazing! Well done to highlight this – but – it would be good to hear your thoughts on how to address the need to re frame masculinity so that men don’t feel that violence equates to manliness.

    I think that is the key otherwise this comes across as men bashing – which it is not. Like you say there is an urgent need to work out why this happens. My own (totally non professional observation) was that the ability to be successfully violent was directly attributable to success / wealth and therefore manliness. Breaking that cycle will not be easy.

    • Hi Nik,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that reframing masculinities in a way that doesn’t come off as ‘man bashing’ is very important… and an extremely difficult thing to achieve. The report gave some examples of how this could be done — for example, through the promotion of ideas of positive fatherhood, men in caring roles, the use of positive male role models. One of the things that struck me from this report was the early age that men and boys started to perpetrate rape. So perhaps there is potential in trying to promote different notions of masculinity in early childhood education and primary school and to start to change some gender stereotypes through that (once again though, difficult to do in developing countries with education systems that are often struggling to teach the basics–and this kind of approach would also need community buy-in). Improved sexual and reproductive health education could also be one way to deliver more accurate information about sex and respectful relationships, and to address socially ingrained ideas of male sexual entitlement.

      You are right that there is likely a strong historical element to this, and the ‘tough guy’ ideal is very much perpetuated in a lot of pop culture and through media (new, social and old)–as are sexualised images of girls and women. So it’s hard to counter these loud, flashy messages. Educating those who create media and bringing them on board as partners (or even introducing standards or codes) could be another option.

      I think it’s a difficult and slow process that requires innovation and a variety of approaches–and it needs to be done hand in hand with other interventions, such as ending cultures of impunity around violence against women and providing women and men with appropriate health services and information. And it’s something that definitely needs to be done with men as partners in the process.

  • Ashlee

    Thank you for sharing this very important discussion. I have been a White Ribbon Ambassador for some time and taking a stand for the elimination of violence against women in all its forms is fundamental.

    What I believe is also important to keep in the forefront of this discussion is that we all need to work together, men and women, and that we need to also take a stand against acts that may not appear as damaging as physical/sexual violence yet are signifincant elements of GBV… inappropriate comments, dominant/power behaviours and so on are all aspects of violence against women that should never be committed, tolerated or excused.

    Not all men are bad… but all men can make a difference by taking a stand to make a difference and eradicate this most damaging aspect of inequality.

    If you would like to know more about White Ribbon, you can view here.

    Mel Dunn

    • Thank you for your comment Mel, I absolutely agree — men and women need to work together on this issue. There was a lot of interesting content in this report, too much to fully explore in just one blog post. The report also made note of the points you raise in its findings and recommendations, particularly on the need to change social norms related to the acceptability of violence and the subordination of women. It also emphasized the need to reframe masculinities so that men don’t feel that violence equates to manliness. Socially constructed gender identities on both sides contribute to GBV, so having both men and women advocates is vital to push for change.

      White Ribbon is a fantastic initiative, thank you for sharing the information about it here.


Leave a Comment