Sexual violence encompasses a wide range of offences including rape, sexual assault, genital mutilation and forced marriage. During times of conflict, there is a recognised increase in rates of sexual violence against women and girls.
In this context, sexual violence includes opportunistic attacks by soldiers, civilians, and even peacekeepers, as well as the deliberate
use of rape by an organised militia. Devastating stories of sexual violence against tens of thousands of women in conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s sparked a global outcry, yet chilling accounts of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) continue to be reported till today.
Since the 1990s, sexual violence in conflict zones has received much media attention. In large part as a result of grassroots feminist organizing in the 1970s and 1980s, mass rapes in the wars in the former Yugoslavia and during the Rwandan genocide received widespread coverage, and international organizations — from courts to NGOs to the UN — have engaged in systematic efforts to hold perpetrators accountable and to ameliorate the effects of wartime sexual violence.
“Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is now widely recognized as a war crime that is preventable and punishable. The United Nations Security Council has played an important role in the past decade by passing successive resolutions that emphasize accountability for perpetrators and services for survivors.” — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres
These victims of CRSV experience stigmatization, ostracising and shun like a plague in their communities, society or internally displaced and refugee camps. The very people that are supposed to act as a support system for these women, young girls, children and abused men become the very people who pass judgement on these victims making life extra unbearable for them.
The big question is whether the victims are to be blamed for what they have suffered or experienced in the unrelenting hands of these evil armed madmen who hate anything beautiful and peaceful?
Are they to be blamed for being victims of those who perpetuate this vile act?
One will ask, what is the motivation that empowers the perpetrators to engage in this act?
What is reality?
The reality for these victims is that not only are they stripped of their dignity and well-being but women and young girls are subjected to long term physical sequelae which include traumatic gynaecological fistula, associated with the high level of violence and brutality that can go hand-in-hand with CRSV.
Other injuries, including mutilation and death, are reported consequences. Victims of such attacks are at risk of sexually transmitted infections, as well as unwanted pregnancy. With poor access to health services during the conflict, and often restrictive legislation surrounding women’s reproductive rights, this, in turn, may lead to increased numbers of women forced into seeking unsafe abortions, and, as a result, a possible increase in avoidable maternal mortality. Stigma, shame, and ostracism often amplify the adverse psychological impact of CRSV, isolating women and girls, as well as male
victims and preventing their ongoing personal, social and economic development, which further heightens gender inequality.
Stigma may also hamper help-seeking behaviour when services are available, and perpetuates underreporting. There are also reported cases of honour killings, prosecution of victims for adultery or morality crimes, and
even cases where individuals are forced to marry their attackers following incidents of sexual violence.
The UN estimates that in conflict zones, for every one rape that is reported, between 10 and 20 rapes are not. In Yemen, there has been a 70% increase in reports of sexual violence, including rape. But no statistics or figures will ever depict the true scale of the problem.
In June 2014, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict hosted by the UK brought together 127 international delegates and was successful in promoting discussion on strategies to end CRSV. This included an international declaration to end impunity for perpetrators, as well as the development of a protocol to aid uniform documentation and investigation of CRSV. Despite this, however, there have been no time-bound and quantifiable pledges to reduce CRSV similarly to the millennium development goals.
Raha initiative stands with all CRSV victims across the globe including Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan, DR Congo, Burundi, Central Africa Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Colombia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who by no fault of there have suffered untold traumas, pain, shame, reproach and stigmatization.
We recognise that CRSV is a global problem that
can affect anyone. We also acknowledge that
although women are disproportionately affected,
men and boys are also targeted. Fear of being
seen as homosexual, feminine or carrying HIV/Aids
make male victims of rape very unlikely to report
their experiences. The use of rape as a weapon of
the war against men and boys has been documented
in Bosnia, Sri Lanka, the Central African Republic
(CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo
In conclusion, Victims of CRSV need to feel secured and accepted. Today, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, Raha Initiative appeals to the UN Peace and Security Council, all governments and people of all races and religious affiliations to speak out louder against Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) and any other related violence worldwide.
Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is a
crime against humanity, thus its legal adjudication should be hastened. We
entreat all governments whose citizens have experienced any form of sexual
violence to investigate these reports judiciously and to mete out justice to the
perpetrators accordingly. We ask for justice to be served sooner than later.
‘Let’s not forget that ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. We desire to experience a world free
of evil domination and ideologies perpetuated by non-rational thinking men.
Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human
Rights: Edited by Elizabeth D. Heineman
Sexual violence in conflict: a global epidemic: Emma Sidebotham BSc(Hons), a Joanne Moffatt BSc(Hons) MBBS, b Kevin Jones BSc(Hons) MB ChB FRCOG MSc MDc
Jennifer A. Moffatt
Team Member/ Writer