The pandemic of Sexual Violence in Conflict
Sexual violence is any unconsented sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by violence or coercion, acts to traffic a person or acts directed against a person’s sexuality, regardless of the relationship to the victim. This includes sexual violence at home, away from home, in public, in the workplace or during a time of conflict and/or crisis. In this article, we will focus on sexual violence that happens in times of conflict.
A time of conflict refers to a particular time-period wherein conflict is caused due to an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles. These times can cause national/international political instability, wars, and a great imbalance or turmoil in our daily lives – and also gives birth to numerous socio-political problems.
UN estimates suggest that in 2019, nearly 132 million people in 42 countries around the world will need humanitarian assistance resulting from conflict or disaster. Nearly 69 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced by violence and conflict, the highest number since World War II.
With so many countries under conflict, one of the problems that is arising rapidly in times of conflict is a great increase in sexual violence.
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Conflict-related sexual violence includes “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence . . . against women, men, girls or boys. Such incidents or patterns occur in conflict or post-conflict settings or other situations of concern (e.g. political strife). They also have a direct or indirect nexus with the conflict or political strife itself, i.e. a temporal, geographical and/or causal link” (UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. Analytical and conceptual framing of conflict-related sexual violence, p. 3)
To add to that, sexual violence includes opportunistic attacks by soldiers, civilians, and even peacekeepers, as well as the deliberate use of rape by the organised militia.
For example, Syria has been amidst a multi-sided civil war since March 15, 2011, fought between the Ba’athist Syrian Arab Republic led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with domestic and foreign allies, and various domestic and foreign forces opposing both the Syrian government and each other in varying combinations. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), rape has been a “significant and disturbing feature” during the conflict, and the primary reason given for 600,000 women fleeing the war zone is fear of sexual assault.
In June 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published data that said, among people living in conflict-prone areas, one person in five is living with some form of mental disorder, from mild depression or anxiety to psychosis. Worse, almost 1 in 10 is living with a moderate or severe mental disorder. Around 22 percent of those affected, suffer depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an analysis of 129 studies published in The Lancet – a United Kingdom-based peer-reviewed medical journal.
A 2016 United Nations (UN) publication presents credible reports of CRSV (Conflict-Related Sexual Violence) across at least 19 countries. This includes reports of brutal sexual violence and gang-rape committed against thousands of women and girls in South Sudan, as well as sexual slavery under the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Sexual violence, in general, can cause numerous mental problems – therefore, sexual violence in conflict can prove to be even worse! So, what are some of the steps being taken to mitigate and deal with mental health problems in relation to sexual violence conflicted areas?
Here are some steps being taken in favor of mental health in areas of conflict:
- In 2019, WHO addressed mental health in countries and territories with populations affected by large-scale emergencies across the world, in Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, among others.
- WHO identifies the need in conflict areas in relation to mental health, determines what resources are readily available, and identifies which government services, local nongovernmental organizations, and international partners have the capacity and knowledge to manage mental health problems, and tries to provide psychosocial support, and stress management.
Despite these few steps taken, what’s the major problem? The problem is, the mental health of people in conflict areas are generally untreated and ignored. A certain section of the population amongst that suffer from sexual violence. The added stress and anxiety of sexual violence can stir the victim’s mental state even more. A consistent concern is that fear and cultural stigma converge to prevent the vast majority of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence from coming forward to report such violence. Even if they do, there are not many examples of conflict-related sexual violence survivors being given proper psychological help and/or treatment.
Without a doubt, WHO and the UN along with the local government of conflict-prone areas have been working tirelessly to cater to sexual violence survivors in conflict areas. We read news about conflict, we discuss it. We have numerous debates about how the conflict in these areas can be prevented. Several laws are made. Sexual violence is somewhere buried under all these layers of problems we read about. And we don’t read about sexual violence enough. Enough steps are not being taken for the psychological rehabilitation of survivors of CRSV. And some are still in danger.
What more can be done to help this situation?