In the plenary talk with Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi today we learned about taking lessons from previous social movements and translating these into creating a global community to stop rape in war. In both Jody’s talk and at the break-out tables, we discussed the role research could play in giving social movements the numbers and evidence to back up action.
In the spirit of the day, here are some myths and, in response to each, are the ways that research has been able to de-bunk, challenge and change some assumptions about sexual violence in war.
Myth 1: Sexual violence in war is inevitable
In fact, a number of researchers have been able to show that many armed groups can effectively repress the rape amongst their troops. Elisabeth Wood, a political scientist at Yale University has done case studies on a number of conflicts where at least one group largely abstains from committing sexual violence – like the LTTE in Sri Lanka and the FMLN in El Salvador. If rape is not inevitable, it is preventable.
Myth 2: Sexual violence in conflict is just an escalation of the peacetime violence against women
In fact, sexual violence in conflict usually has a starkly different profile that the violence that occurs against women during times of stability. Without minimizing the violence that women face throughout the world in both war and peace, we must recognize the uniquely destructive features of war-time rape. This form of violence may include gang rape, abductions, sexual slavery and rape in public. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over 60% of women survivors of sexual violence report gang rape. Women may face unique vulnerabilities and risks during times of conflict that we must address.
Myth 3: Sexual violence is only perpetrated by rebel group and non-state armed groups
A recent study of African conflicts has shown that state actors are more likely to be reported as perpetrators than rebel groups. This provides an important opportunity to engage with governments and national armies to provide training, education and security sector reform to prevent sexual violence.
Myth 4: It is impossible to study rape in conflict
In fact, research can and must be done in conflict; at no point is it more vital to understand and respond to the needs of survivors and communities. Timely, thoughtful research can provide a critical window into where, when, how and why violence is being perpetrated and how best to respond. By combining qualitative and quantitative methods and bringing both numbers and narratives to bear on understanding the issue, we can better understand and respond to sexual violence in war.