Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2022 Apr 28, 2022
Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War: Women’s Hidden Battle During Conflict
Warning: The following post contains descriptions of sexual violence.
With the horrifying mounting body of evidence emerging about Ukrainian women being raped during the conflict with Russia, we are once again reminded of the brutality of war. As one example, according to one news report, around 25 girls and women aged 14-24 were systematically raped in the basement of one house in Bucha. 1 As warfare rages on and the violence escalates, women’s bodies have become part of the battlefield.
Systematic rape must no longer be dismissed as an inevitable by-product of war, but instead as a defining and deliberate tactic of modern conflicts that must be stopped. That’s why NO MORE and Avon have teamed up to increase awareness and engage with leaders and organisations to support survivors and prevent violence.
Here’s what you need to know for starters:
1) The Magnitude of the Problem is Hard to Fully Know: We know it’s bad, but reliable global statistics on the magnitude of sexual violence during conflict do not exist. One reliable cross-national study found that wartime rape was significant in 62% of all major civil wars between 1980-2009. 2 Due to shame, fear and other obstacles, the UN estimates that in conflict zones, for every rape that is reported, between 10 and 20 rapes are not. 3
2) Yet, Understanding is Increasing: The issue has been progressively better understood over the last two decades. The atrocities during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide in particular have helped to shed some light. An estimated 60,000 women were raped in the three-year Bosnian conflict 4 and up to 250,000 in the hundred-day Rwandan genocide. 5 In recent years, reports of sexual violence have been documented in conflicts in Bangladesh 6, Myanmar 7, Colombia 8, Ethiopia 9, South Sudan 10, and many more.
3) It’s Not Only Rape: Conflict-related sexual violence has become almost synonymous with rape, however sexual violence takes a number of different forms in conflict and post-conflict settings. Other common forms of violence include sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, and forced marriage including of minors. 11 In addition to the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence, research has also found that domestic violence against women increases when conflict breaks out. 12 13 14 15
4) No One is Immune from Becoming a Victim: Sexual violence can be perpetrated against all groups of people, in all parts of the world, no matter race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, and gender – including women and men, boys and girls. Though conflict-related sexual violence against men and boys is widespread, men and boys are even less likely to report it due to enormous taboo around the topic. 16
5) The Impact is Vast and Long-Lasting - The effects of sexual violence are devastating to individuals and damaging to whole communities. Physical consequences include unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections that “leave women scarred, disabled, unable to conceive and deemed unsuitable for marriage”. 17 The resulting psychological trauma can include distress, shame, isolation and guilt, sleeping and eating disorders, depression, and a number of other behavioural disorders. It is not only the victims that are affected - partners, children and other family members also experience the trauma of guilt or shame. 18 The physical and emotional consequences are often compounded by the loss of socio-economic stability and opportunity. 19
We can be active bystanders and raise our voices to speak out against sexual violence in conflict. Simply by sharing this with your friends and family you can be part of a movement to raise awareness and help to signpost vital support services for people who need them. Join us and raise your voice.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual violence, go to the NO MORE Global Directory and find support services in more than 205 countries, including Ukraine.
We hope you will join us in speaking out and supporting ongoing efforts to stop conflict-related sexual violence, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and beyond. Learn more about this issue and what you can do to help.
By Natalie Deacon - AVON Foundation and Pamela Zaballa - NO MORE Foundation.
1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-61071243 | 2. Dara Kay Cohen, “Explaining Rape during Civil War: Cross-National Evidence (1980–2009)”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 107, No. 3, 2013, pp. 461–477 | 3. https://www.warchild.org.uk/news/hidden-victims-sexual-violence-war | 4. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1359249/FULLTEXT01.pdf | 5. https://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/supporting-survivors.shtml | 6. https://brill.com/view/book/9789004389380/BP000007.xml | 7. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-022-13038-7 | 8. https://www.ecchr.eu/en/case/sexual-violence-in-the-colombian-conflict/ | 9. https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/tigrayan-forces-attacks-on-civilians-in-amhara-towns/ | 10. https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/A_HRC_49_CRP_4.pdf | 11. https://www.svri.org/sites/default/files/attachments/2016-01-14/A%20research%20agenda%20for%20sexual%20violence%20in%20humanitarian%2C%20conflict%20and%20post-conflict%20settings..pdf | 12. World Bank, Global Monitoring Report: Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, (Washington, DC, 2007) | 13. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/2/e003644 | 14. Jose V Gallegos and Italo A Gutierrez, “The Effect of Civil Conflict on Domestic Violence: The Case of Peru,” working paper, August 3, 2011, available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1904417 | 15. Lori Heise and Claudia Garcia-Moreno (2002), “Violence by Intimate Partners,” in Etienne G. Krug et al, eds., World Report on Violence and Health (Geneva: WHO, 2002), p. 100; | 16. https://www.msf.org/sexual-violence | 17. PLoS Medicine Editors. Rape in war is common, devastating, and too often ignored. PLoS Med. 2009;6(1):e21. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000021 | 18. https://international-review.icrc.org/sites/default/files/irrc-894-sexual-violence-in-armed-conflict.pdf | 19. https://international-review.icrc.org/sites/default/files/irrc-894-sexual-violence-in-armed-conflict.pdf