International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Jill Steans and Daniela Tepe
Chapter 25: Conflict-related sexual violence
Sexual violence is not a vanishingly rare or trivial characteristic of war making. Particularly in the twentieth century, reports emerged revealing the scourge of sexual violence in warfare. During the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, rape incidence among women is estimated to have ranged from 20000 to 50000. In Rwanda, about 250000 to 500000 females were victims of sexual assaults during the 1994 genocide. The deliberate use of sexual violence was also reported during conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and East Timor. The current conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and more recently in Syria and Libya demonstrate that rape, sexual mutilation and sexualised torture remain a salient feature of contemporary conflicts. Despite being increasingly visible in scholarly and policy debates, the prevalence of sexual violence is hard to unveil owing to cultural and religious taboos surrounding sexuality. Gendered conceptions of virility and purity over male and female survivors, respectively, render them socially spoiled. While female victims become socially soiled and unmarriageable, males are feminised or homosexualised in the eyes of their communities. Fearing rejection and social ostracism, survivors prefer to remain silent instead of pursuing justice. The widespread perpetration of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) poses significant challenges for reconstructing the social fabric torn apart by dynamics of violence, potentially producing detrimental effects for building peace and reconciliation in the aftermath of armed conflicts. At the international level, sexual violence has long been a key site of engagement of women’s organisations and feminist movements.
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