10/17/2013 07:53 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Is Rape Culture Human Nature or Nurture?

In my formative years, a male counterpart stated that rape was part of the natural world. He cited examples of lions forcibly mounting lionesses and other such animalistic mating behaviours, concluding that "rape is natural." At the time I was too young to articulate protest, but I have carried his assertion to date. And it has coloured my ongoing struggle to define the feminine construct as an individual in an image-impregnated world, propagating limited portraits of women.

His claim was troubling on many levels. The most disconcerting was that his rationalization of a violent act was shared by others and normalized by laissez faire attitudes of civil institutions in general. The pervasiveness of violence against women seamlessly crosses borders and disregards economic statuses. From developing nations -- gang rapes in India, rape warfare in Africa -- to developed nations, with instances like fraternity rape parties in the U.S..

So what is the source of sexual violence? The UN conducted a multi-country study to identify the root drivers, surveying more than 10,000 men, ages 18 to 49. Although focused on six countries in Asia Pacific, the findings serve as an extrapolation point for broader application. According to the data, common motivators for rape were boredom and fun, anger and punishment, as well as the intake of alcohol. Of note, the most prevalent motivation for perpetrating rape was men's sexual entitlement to women's bodies.

There it is. Male entitlement -- the singular remnant of bygone patriarchal beliefs and power structures. To this day, women's sexualities remain confined to and defined by the hegemony of the male perspective. Challenges to such authority are cause for backlash from a subset of males and females alike, slut shaming only one of the behavioural tactics.

In Canada, Almas Jiwani, President of UN Women Canada National Committee, believes that "unequal participation of women in the political and economic life of a country, enforced over generations, leads some men to believe that women are somehow lesser people. If women had equal power to make decisions over matters of importance for society -- for example, national policies or national budgets -- they would not be marginalized to the extent that they would been seen as expendable or just a representation of a family's honour."

UN Women has launched multiple initiatives to address gender equalization and gender-based violence. From Women's Empowerment Principles, which outlines a framework for corporations to reach gender parity, to campaigns such as Voices Against Violence, an informal curriculum for youth, and Stop Rape Now, ending rape as a weapon of war, the organization has taken on the challenge in all its complexities.

Chief amongst their efforts was Resolution 1820, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in 2008 and declared that in times of conflict "rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide." Resolution 1820 set a significant precedent, elevating wartime rape and sexualized violence not only as a risk to a nation's security but punishable as an international crime.

Perhaps it is apt for civic society to examine whether rape and other forms of sexual violence should constitute a crime against humanity during times of peace.

It Happens Here: Photos Of Men And Women Who Were Sexually Assaulted At Amherst College