Will Banning Pornogrpahy Change Rape Culture In Nepal?

The Nepalese government has recently banned internet pornography in a bid to reduce rape and sexual assault against women in the country. The actions were taken after nationwide protests erupted in August following the rape and murder of a 13-year old girl, putting strong pressure on the government to tighten laws, increase punishments, and overhaul and improve police resources to help catch the perpetrator.

The rape and murder of the 13 year old girl in Western Nepal, and the subsequent tampering of evidence and mishandling of the case by police, raised anger in communities across the country, and pushed the government to reintroduce the pornography ban originally introduced in 2010. Previously, the ban was never fully enforced, however this reintroduction has also included severe fines and prison sentences for any of the country’s 115 internet service providers (ISPs) that do not comply by banning the approximately 24,000 pornography websites compiled by the government.

While the government has acknowledged that alone, the ban will not change anything overnight. Mahendra Man Gurung, Secretary of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, has said that the law is only one of several steps the government has already taken – and plans to take – to curb sexual violence.

There are a number of critics of the law who have stated that it will do little to lessen sexual crimes against women in Nepal. Firstly, ISPs and pornographic websites have stated that while they will comply with the ban, internet users may continue to illegally access those websites, and that “anytime you push a legal industry underground […] you push legal users into those underground spaces as well,” according to Alex Hawkins of the banned website xHamster. Critics have stated that the government has demonstrated a complete “lack of understanding of how the Internet works.”

News media in Nepal was also critical of the ban, with website The Record calling the ban a “diversionary tactic to hide the government’s incompetence in prosecuting rapists,” while The Kathmandu Post labelled the ban as a “myopic and misguided attempt at vilifying and scapegoating sex.”

Activists, NGOs, and the public have also largely dismissed the ban as an attempt to turn attention away from the incompetence, mismanagement, and corruption of the police that have mishandled sexual violence cases, or never even solved them. Political corruption and manipulation of police forces is also prominent in several areas, increasing the likelihood of police misconduct with little to no repercussions.

Nepal has seen a continued rise of both police-reported and unreported sexual assault and rape cases. According to police figures, within the last year more than 1500 rape cases were reported to the police across the country; in the past two months, 479 reports of rape and attempted rape were filed, which amounts to more than the total number of cases filed in 2008 and 2009. Additionally, for every case that is reported to police, there are likely just as many that are not reported in an incredibly patriarchal society that does not value women as highly as men.

Nepal’s pornography ban may end up largely ineffective at decreasing rape and sexual assault against women in the country, because it has been built upon a fundamental lack of understanding of rape culture in Nepal, fails to address the root causes of sexual violence against women, and does nothing to strengthen the justice system to support victims of sexual violence. According to many, the problem lies not with the effects of pornography and violence in media, but with the government corruption that facilitates police incompetence and mismanagement. In trying to minimise police incompetence, shift the blame to external factors, and ignore public demands, the government is merely “closing their eyes to the reality,” according to women’s rights activist Mohna Ansari.

Ashika Manu