Sexual Violence Awareness Week: rape as a weapon of war
This week (6-12 February) is designated Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week. It’s a time to raise awareness of and build a discussion around the terrible impact of sexual violence worldwide, including the widespread practice of sexual abuse in torture.
Every day at Freedom from Torture our doctors document the effects of torture and our therapists listen to the terrible stories told by survivors of their ordeals at the hands of the torturers. But of all the types of torture, it is sexual torture, especially rape, that is often the most deeply hidden and the last to be disclosed.
Rape is routinely used in torture. Women who acknowledge their rape may be excluded or ostracised by their families and communities, and find it hard to seek treatment for their injuries. Women who speak out are often targeted because of their activities.
Survivors like Faith, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where rape is used as a form of torture to stop women speaking out about politics, human rights and even rape itself. Faith worked at a charity that advocated for the rights of street children and rape victims. After she organised an anti-rape protest, she was taken to prison by the police and tortured.
“I can't even remember how many times I was raped. The soldiers and the prison guards, they don't see women as human beings, they don't see any value in women.”
Survivors like Sanar from Iran, who took part in demonstrations during the disputed elections of 2009. A few days later she was picked up by security forces, interrogated for hours, beaten and raped.
Survivors like Anuja, from Sri Lanka, who was tortured because of her husband’s political activities.
“It was a cycle of horror. Every few days they would interrogate me, ask me the same questions over and over and over. These sessions were accompanied by torture – burning with cigarettes, beatings with wires. And there was always rape too. I think every guard in that prison had raped me by the time I was released.”
And it is not just women who suffer sexual violence. It is inflicted upon men as well, as a means of denigrating their manhood and breaking their will. Sexual torture of men is still a largely hidden horror.
In 2014, and again in 2016, Freedom from Torture clinicians and Survivors Speak OUT reviewed the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Survivors Speak OUT has a place on the steering board for the Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative, placing survivor voices at the heart of efforts to tackle sexual violence in conflict.
We believe that only when governments act to end the immunity of torturers will the full story of the rape and abuse used in torture be revealed. We continue to stand in solidarity with the women, men and child survivors of such abuse.
Kolbassia Haoussau, co-ordinator of Survivors Speak OUT and member of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) Steering Committee, says:
“It is vital that the survivor voice is at the heart of the debate as well as the solutions. It is not just about listening to survivors but also working together to find strategies to prevent sexual violence in the future. That is why is it important I represent SSO on the Steering Committee but that also, our views are being considered in the Protocol revision process.”