Bringing Sexual Violence out of the Shadows of War

Story by Anna Nelson, ICRC Washington, Spokesperson and Intercross Editor

Sexual and gender-based violence is a scourge that ruins lives and shatters dreams. It comes in many forms – from forced marriage and sex trafficking to rape and sexual abuse. The victims are commonly women and girls but it happens to men and boys, too. It is used as a method of warfare to intentionally exert pressure on communities and fuel fighting. It can also be opportunistic in situations where there is no rule of law. For example, when people are forced to flee their homes, perpetrators will take advantage of the chaos to commit horrific crimes.

The scars of sexual violence can last a lifetime for the victims, but also for the communities in which they live. It breaks people's spirits, tears families apart, and can destroy the fabric of societies. The fact that it is so widespread, yet largely invisible, is also an immense challenge for humanitarian agencies, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who are working in countries affected by war and armed violence. This is why we recently decided to take a new approach to tackling the problem.

In any situation of armed conflict, the ICRC now starts with the basic assumption that sexual violence is happening. Just because we don't see it right away, doesn't mean it's not there. Experience has shown that it is there – lurking in the shadows, its victims too scared or ashamed to come forward.

In this video, we hear from a rape survivor in the Democratic Republic of Congo and learn why it's so important for victims to have somewhere safe to turn.

For more information on the work of ICRC to help survivors of sexual violence, please click here.

For more stories from the Intercross, ICRC Washington's blog, please click here.