Women have been raped in wars for thousands of years. Howeverm recent times have seen not only a dramatic increase in conflict-related sexual violence, but also horrific examples systematically-deployed sexual violence as a means of intimidation and ethnic cleansing. It is this that has caused Major-General Cammaert, the former UN peacekeeping commander in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to say: ‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.’ In that very year, 14,591 new cases of sexual violence were reported in the DRC: since 1998, it is believed 200,000 Congolese women have been raped. As I heard for myself when I met with rape victims Goma in 2011, there is still widespread sexual violence in the DRC. We hear the same reports from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan - to name but a few.
The problem is not only what you might call ‘weaponised’ rape. Amidst the social breakdown that accompanies (and often precedes) conflict, domestic and sexual violence perpetrated by non-military actors increases - and continues long after the actual bombs and bullets have fallen silent. Brutalised by conflict and mostly hidden from public view, these perpetrators prosper with impunity. At times, they are actually protected by the law of the land, as we saw in the case of the Somali woman who spoke of being gang-raped by state security forces - and was sentenced to a year in prison, along with the journalist who published the interview. Following international (including British) pressure, her sentence has since been commuted, but the journalist remains imprisoned.