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Are there any differences between cultures?

Differences between cultures

In all countries and cultures, people have sex without consenting to it. According to the World Health Organisation, sexual violence means: “Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.” During a war, forced sex is often used as a weapon. When this happens, the woman and the man who could not protect her are humiliated. In other situations, we speak of exploitation. Someone is taking advantage of the other person's situation. In the Netherlands, too, sexual violence is often a form of abuse of power.


There are different opinions in each country and each culture about, for example, the role and position of women and men, relationships, sexuality, children and the upbringing of children. There are also different views on rape and different reactions from the family and the environment. Both women and men can be victims of sexual violence.


“The mother of a four-year-old boy said: While I was fleeing, I was abused by a man who promised to take me to this country safely. He dropped me off at a refugee centre, then he disappeared from my life. Later I found out I was pregnant. The worst thing to me is that my son is regarded as a nobody, because he will never know his father. The men in our family are the village elders. This position is handed down from father to son. This gives the son the right to exist, and his position in life. But my son? He only has a mother. That doesn't count in our community... But fortunately, here he has the same rights as other children."

Sexual violence: a taboo

Many societies do not talk about sexual violence and its consequences, it is a taboo. People often feel shame and guilt. In many countries, including the Netherlands, rape is considered a crime. Victims of sexual abuse can report this and are entitled to medical assistance and counselling (link to ‘When and where do I ask for help?’). The perpetrators can be prosecuted, but this is often a long and difficult road for the victim.

Victims are not adequately protected. Women are afraid of being accused or not being accepted. In some countries, victims are sometimes cast from the group and have to live elsewhere. Sometimes their family feel obliged to kill them, because the event has brought shame onto the family. Some victims are so afraid of the consequences that they, sometimes for years or even the rest of their lives, choose to live with their painful secret.

A taboo everywhere and forever?

In many cultures, there is room for different views, even when it comes to sexual violence. Cultures are dynamic. This means that opinions and beliefs change with the times. More and more women and children born of rape are refusing to accept the negative prejudices and preconceptions about them. They want acknowledgement of what was done to them and they want justice to be done. In this way, they contribute to change and ultimately end the taboo. If they are supported by their family or people around them whom they trust, they will be more likely to recover and participate in everyday life again without guilt and shame.

Children born of sexual violence

Children born of sexual violence are often regarded in a negative light. They are discriminated against and sometimes, including their mother, rejected by family. In war zones, if the father belonged to the enemy group, it is especially difficult when it becomes known where the child comes from. Children can be bullied or excluded as a result. Mothers want to protect their child and keep it a secret who their father is. Many children would like to know who their father is, later on in life. Perhaps because the father's name is required to gain access to education, for example.

In recent years, we have seen examples of children (now young adults) who had the courage to disclose their origins. They fight for recognition and to have the same rights as other children. They want a dignified life, without shame.

An example is the association founded in Bosnia ’Forgotten children of war’.

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DW Documentary. (2019, 26 oktober). Bosnia's invisible children: Living in dignity.