Monday, 10 September 2012

Sexual Violence...The New Weapon of War

It was called Slavery during the civil war, Comfort Women in World War II, and today they are considered the modern day sex slaves. During the civil war, the women were discriminated upon and abused because of their race. In World War II, the Comfort Women who were victims of the Japanese military sexual violence were abducted, lured with promises of work and brought in “comfort stations” to be raped, abused, or punished for whatever reason. It is said that approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted disease.  

In the Bosnian war in the 1990s, sexualized violence was also rampant. There were “rape camps” where women were repeatedly tortured and violated, some by as many as 20 men a day – an “ethnic cleansing” of children and adults through sexual violence because of their religion. In other nations like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Libya or Egypt, the males and females suffer the same fate under what is now called the new weapon of war – sexual violence.
Though historically the majority of the victims were female, sexual violence during conflicts of war does not discriminate on gender or age. By using sexual violence as a form of weapon to humiliate and strip them of their dignity, the victims to a large extent lose their spirit and will to fight, shaming and bringing dishonor to their families.

For some who were able to escape their abusers, there was a glimmer of hope to start a new life, but the tragic and violent experience will always remain a deep scar in their memories. Some never really recovered from the trauma. Many continue to suffer in silence for fear of further humiliation and being ostracized by their own families and the society they live in. Others never survived the torture and abuses inflicted on them. They perished from the systematic acts of sexual violence... the nameless and faceless John and Jane Does, forever buried into obscurity and never to be found again.

To this day, the debate continues on the number of actual victims. The difficulty in coming out with an accurate statistical data is largely due to the fact that such violence is kept by the victims and their families, many resorting to honor killing to protect the family’s reputation. Some simply disappeared. Others were too emotionally and psychologically distraught to report and recount the horrors of their experience.

And to add to what is already an acknowledged concern by the international community, there were people expected to be protectors of the victims - the “peacekeepers,” who also turned out to be involved in abuses or exploitation. The victims were left to fend for themselves the best they can under the circumstances where such “peacekeepers” were involved in sexual abuses. Such was the case recently reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the sexual violations committed by UN peacekeepers were termed a grave betrayal of trust. UN Peacekeepers reported as sexually and violently violating young girls were not really questioned  “so long as they wear that iconic blue beret or blue helmet.” How such criminal acts can be tolerated is deplorable and should be punishable and never tolerated.   

Though there have been developments in addressing the growing concern on the use of sexual violence as a tool or weapon during conflicts of war, the pace is still going way too slow.

In Sierra Leone, former Liberian President Charles Taylor became the first head of state since World War II to be convicted by an international war crimes court on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted of kidnapping children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves aside from the notoriety of hacking off the limbs of their enemies and carving their groups' initials into opponents.
The Dayton Accords signed after the Bosnia-Herzegovina war provided for restitution for survivors of sexualized violence. Victims were supposed to be allowed to return to their former homes as long as the return would be “safe and dignified.” But “no rules have been put in place to provide alternatives for the many women whose former homes are the site of extreme trauma and sometimes months of repeated rape.”   Though the Accord was enacted, it failed in the sense that some victims ended up returning to communities only to be vulnerable to the very people who committed abuses against them and their families.  

The victims of war through sexual slavery should not be viewed as dishonour to the family. Nor should they be treated as mere victims of sexual violence or another number added to the growing statistics of such violence. Rather they should be provided with the means to recover from their trauma to be able to start a new life again. Family support and professional therapy to help them cope are critical to their recovery. Some may never be able to cope and live through the degrading and inhuman experience they went through. The road to recovery won’t be easy for these victims but with the support from their families, government and Non-Government Organizations, they have a chance...

Sources and Readings:

By Lylin Aguas

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