For those of you interested in sexual violence in conflict and war, here is an excellent report to address misconceptions held by society, implications for our communities’ health and well-being, as well as politics and suggestions for policy-makers to create change for the future.
February 2013 | Special Report of the United States Institute of Peace by Dara Kay Cohen, Amelia Hoover Green, and Elisabeth Jean Wood

This report was launched as a result of the implementation of The Missing Peace Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict settings.   The following organisations collaborated to address the issues of conflict-related sexual violence with the goal to identify gaps in knowledge, gaps in reporting, and to identify means to increase effectiveness of response:  United States Institute of Peace (USIP); the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley; the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO); and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute North America (SIPRI North America).

The authors identify and summarize ten major misconceptions about wartime sexual violence.  They go on to highlight not only gaps in knowledge but advances already being made that can be replicated to reduce sexual violence in conflict and create safer communities. Additionally, for policy-makers, their report outlines the implications of these findings for policy-making as a means to correct institutional and state sanctioned patterns of misconduct.

Some of the more notable facts discovered and salient points made by the authors:

  • Rape as a tactic in wartime rape is not inevitable nor widespread. A reality is that sexual violence varies from country to country, type of conflict, and within armed factions or groups. To be recognized is that some political factions or armed groups can and do prohibit sexual violence. This evidence of variation and presence of positive action from some armed groups leads to the conclusion that policy interventions should also be focused on armed groups, and that commanders in effective control of their troops can be and are, in fact, legally liable for patterns of sexual violence they fail or refuse to prevent.
  • Rape in conflict and wartime rape can happen anywhere.  It is not specific to certain types of conflicts, to geographic regions, or to ethnic or non-ethnic wars.
  • State forces are more likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual violence than rebels. This may indicate that States may be more susceptible than rebels to naming and shaming campaigns around sexual violence as an impact of institutionalized belief systems perpetuated.
  • Perpetrators and victims are not always who we expect them to be. Perpetrators of sexual violence are often not armed soldiers or rebels but can be civilians. Perpetrators also are not exclusively male, nor are victims exclusively female. Policymakers should not neglect non-stereotypical perpetrators and victims.
  • Rape in wartime rape is often not an intentional strategy of war: it is more frequently tolerated than ordered. Nonetheless, as the authors noted above, commanders in effective control of their troops are legally liable for sexual violence perpetrated by those troops.
  • Within gaps identified, in particular, existing data cannot determine conclusively whether wartime sexual violence on a global level is increasing, decreasing, or holding steady.  To date, much remains unknown about the patterns and causes of wartime sexual violence and further study and action is required.  To that end, policymakers should instead focus on variation at lower levels of aggregation, and especially across armed groups.

The Authors and their connection to Anti-Violence Work

Dara Kay Cohen is an assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, is completing a book project on wartime rape during recent civil conflicts.
Amelia Hoover Green is an assistant professor of political science at Drexel University, is focusing her current book on armed group’s efforts to control repertoires of violence against civilians.
Both Cohen and Hoover Green were USIP Peace Scholars in 2008 and 2009.
Elisabeth Jean Wood is a professor of political science at Yale University and was a USIP Peace Scholar in 1993 and 1994. Her work focuses on political violence, civil war, and social movements. She is completing a book manuscript titled Wartime Sexual Violence.
The report was written by the authors in their personal capacities, and the views are theirs alone.