Why sexual violence in war is so widespread — and under-covered
How to understand Hamas’s sexual attacks on October 7 Vox.com
Israeli Officials Investigate Allegations of Sexual Violence by Hamas
As Israeli officials piece together the attacks of October 7, evidence is mounting that Hamas committed crimes of sexual violence against the people it attacked in Israel — both women and men, both dead and alive.
UN testimony delivered earlier this month implicates Hamas and other militants in potential sexual crimes during the rampage in Israel, including shooting at the genitals of the victims, inserting foreign objects into sexual organs, as well as, potentially, rape and other forms of sexual violence. But as the testimonies shared before the UN indicate, investigations into what happened on that day are ongoing and will be complicated by the fact that many of the victims and witnesses are dead.
What we know about sexual violence on October 7
Israeli authorities have collected testimony from witnesses and first responders, as well as footage gathered from militants as they attacked towns and villages, as part of the Israeli government’s investigation into the sexual crimes that Hamas and other militants allegedly perpetrated. Evidence is still emerging and may be difficult to ascertain in full — gathering that evidence becomes forensically challenging as dead bodies decompose. And it may take time for survivors — including, potentially, hostages — to be able to recount their experiences and share them with the authorities, since sexual trauma often carries with it shame, doubt, and confusion.
Conflict-related sexual violence encompasses a broad and evolving set of crimes that don’t necessarily involve rape; sexually invasive searches, groping, stripping and public shaming, and damaging or maiming sexual organs are all forms of sexual violence, as is coercion into sexual acts to secure favorable treatment, shelter, food, or security in conflict or in captivity.
Following the October 7 attack in Israel, witnesses have presented testimony about nails and other objects being placed in the sexual organs of at least one victim, as well as evidence that militants shot at the sexual organs of victims. Israeli police have also collected witness testimony that indicates militants violently raped some of the victims, CNN reported earlier this month. However, the police do not have first-hand testimony from survivors, because it’s not clear there are any left. (Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after meeting with released hostages, has said that Hamas and militants in Gaza are sexually assaulting female hostages.)
Sexual violence is intrinsic to war throughout history
Sexual violence is extremely common throughout the history of conflict and conquest, though our understanding of what constitutes sexual violence within conflict is evolving. For example, the idea of enslaved people or concubines who were always at a ruler’s disposal for sex would have been thought of as slavery or membership in a royal court rather than as conflict-related sexual violence centuries ago. The taking of “brides” or sex slaves, as ISIS did to Yazidi women in Iraq as it captured land to build its caliphate, is now considered a clear-cut case of sexual violence.
UN peacekeepers in Haiti, insurgent groups like the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, state actors like Japan’s use of Korean “comfort women,” and Russian forces raping Ukrainians are among the wide variety of perpetrators. Academic literature, especially that which centers on avenues for justice, often focuses on cases of systemic sexual violence — most often in the Rwandan genocide and in the Bosnian war, as the violence was so widespread, systemic, and ethnically motivated. These conflicts also led to the first international tribunals to include prosecutions for conflict-related sexual violence, and the documentation, study, and prosecution of these cases greatly advanced the study of conflict-related sexual violence.
“The prosecution of sexual violence by the [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia] transformed scholarly studies of gender and war, as well as international human rights law,” Burnet said. Other instances, like the abuse of Korean women by Japanese soldiers and longstanding patterns of sexual violence by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
- SDG 5: Gender Equality
- Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres
- Indicator 5.2.1: Proportion of ever-partnered women and girls subjected to physical, sexual, or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months
- Indicator 5.2.2: Proportion of women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to sexual violence by persons other than an intimate partner in the previous 12 months
- Target 16.1: Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
- Indicator 16.1.3: Proportion of population subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual violence in the previous 12 months
- Target 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
- Indicator 16.3.2: Unsentenced detainees as a proportion of overall prison population
|SDG 5: Gender Equality
|Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres
|Indicator 5.2.1: Proportion of ever-partnered women and girls subjected to physical, sexual, or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months
|Indicator 5.2.2: Proportion of women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to sexual violence by persons other than an intimate partner in the previous 12 months
|SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
|Target 16.1: Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
|Indicator 16.1.3: Proportion of population subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual violence in the previous 12 months
|Target 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
|Indicator 16.3.2: Unsentenced detainees as a proportion of overall prison population
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