Sexual violence in war

There is an aspect of war-time that is often not talked about in our history classes. We learn about the dates, the generals and war heroes, but we are taught very little about sexual violence in conflicts. Unfortunately, that absence of information does not mean that the problem does not exist. There are many articles that try to shed more light on that often ignored aspect of wars.

In “War-Time Sexual Violence: Misconceptions, Implications and Ways Forward” (Cohen, Green & Wood, 2013) the authors try to tackle many misconceptions that people hold about sexual violence in conflict. They note that the phenomenon cannot be generalized, as many factors vary. The authors state:
“In other words, variation is enormous in the location, timing, and perpetration of wartime rape.“
Amongst many other misconceptions one of the most common belief is that the occurrence of war-time rape is affected by geography, and the phenomenon is widely associated with Africa. However, as studies mentioned in the article have shown, such belief is inappropriate, as war-time rape is just as likely to occur in other areas, such as Europe or USA. Authors prove other misconceptions wrong as well, for instance who is more likely to commit or to be a victim of sexual crimes during a conflict: rebel groups or state militaries, men or women, combatants or civilians, etc. Some surprising statistics are provided, such as:


“The rape of Serbia”, based on a painting by the Dutch painter Jan Sluters (1930), showing that the phenomenon is present throughout centuries

“A population-based survey conducted in 2010 in the eastern DRC found that 41 percent of female sexual violence victims reported that they were victimized by female perpetrators, as did 10 percent of male victims. “ Not only does the article criticize and tackle those misconceptions, it also proves how they affect our knowledge about the subject by making studies biased. An example is how victims are always assumed to be women, and therefore studies rarely “ask BOTH about the sex of the perpetrator and the sex of the victim”.

The article also notes that there are many questions that still remain unanswered. It is the consequence of bias, generalization, misunderstandings, underreporting, overrepresentation, underrepresentation etc. However, the authors state that even thought we may not fully understand it, all the variety present in war-time sexual violence is a proof of it not being inevita
ble. The article points the readers at a certain direction, stating that the more we know about sexual violence in conflict, the more we can do to prevent it.
In the policy brief “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflicts” (Chun & Skjelbaek, 2010) the authors similarly note how our knowledge about sexual violence in war is limited, mainly due to poor documentation. It notices difficulties associated with definitions of rape and other sexual offences. It is stated:
“However, the crime of sexual violence in conflict has only recently been defined in international law, as gender-based sexual violence in conflict had long been regarded as a by-product of conflict rather than as a criminal act. “
Sexual violence not being defined as a criminal act is one of the factors contributing to the scale of the problem. The article gives example of how in some parts of the world sexual violence is used as a war strategy, instead of being prevented. Although it does focus more on women as victims, it also notes that focus on sexual violence against men should increase. Moreover, the reading also notes what other limitations we have when it comes to knowledge about sexual violence in conflict, such as the the social stigma that discourages victims from reporting the crime.


The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (2014)

The conclusion that we can draw from both of the readings is that our knowledge about sexual violence in conflict is fairly limited. The reasons noted are the challenge of defining what sexual violence is, common misconceptions and assumptions deeply embedded in our culture, lack of documentation and reluctancy to report the crimes. However authors of both articles agree that the way to fight sexual violence in war-time is to know more about it, because only with more knowledge are we able to really prevent it.