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International Women’s Day and Sexual Assault as a Tactic in War-Torn Areas

International Women's Day and Sexual Assault as a Tactic in War-Torn Areas

By Sujata Warrier Ph.D. and Christina M. Jones, J.D. | March 8th, 2022

As the national resource center on civil and criminal justice response to gender-based violence, we strongly condemn all forms of sexual violence and on International Women’s Day we want to call out sexual violence that is used in conflict-affected and war-torn areas as a tactic of control.  

Sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war. According to the United Nations Security Council report on conflict-related sexual violence, the term “conflict-related sexual violence,” as used i, refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls, or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict. 

Professor Inger Skjelsbæk, explains, “[W]e've gone from thinking that ‘rape is something inevitably happens in war because men are men, and things happen’ to thinking that rape is a clear war strategy and a war crime that threatens international peace and security. And that it can be combated through changing attitudes and criminal prosecution.” 

The use of sexual violence in all its forms has been a tool for conquest, a weapon of war and a means of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The strategic use of sexual violence against girls and women not only destroyed Native communities in the Americas but was used to systematically terrorize and subjugate enslaved Black people. World history is rife with examples of the use of rape to instill fear, humiliate, dominate, erase cultures through forced pregnancies, transmit sexual diseases, destroy reproductive organs, stigmatization of victims to destroy social and ethnic cohesiveness, extraordinary and life changing physical injuries and intergenerational trauma.  

As there are various memorials erected for veterans of various wars and conflicts, there should also be memorials that are dedicated to survivors of sexual violence during war and conflict. A memorial would be a fantastic way to draw attention to these atrocities, have people reflect on the damage sexual violence causes to people and communities, and hopefully spark a much-needed change in the civil and criminal prosecution of the perpetrators of “conflict-related sexual violence.” 

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality. Women across the world in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Indigenous Nations in America, and other nations have a right to be free from sexual violence, especially when it is done in the context of war. 

We believe by not speaking out against these atrocities, we are complicit in the degradation of women and girls in communities across the globe. We must bring attention to and care for women and girls who are survivors of conflict related sexual violence.   

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