Breaking the silence on conflict-related sexual violence

Sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - Women victims in DRC
© Alexis Huguet / AFP
1 min 11Approximate reading time

In 2009 the UN Security Council established a special representative to address sexual violence in wars and violence against women in particular, then considered as “the most silenced crime”. Fifteen years later Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten talks to our partners at Asymmetrical Haircuts. “It is no longer an invisible crime,” she says in a vetted interview. In 2023, over 3,000 documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 21 countries were officially verified by her office, an increase of 49% from 2022. “Survivors are breaking the silence, something you would not imagine 15 years ago,” she says. Shame and stigma remains the main obstacle. Fear of reprisals and rejection, lack of trust in law and order institutions are others. And lack of access to information: thousands of cases are not reported or not verifiable.

Rape as a weapon of war has come to light once again during the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas combatants. Patten’s recent report states there are “reasonable grounds to believe” Hamas and militants from Gaza perpetrated acts of sexual violence including rape and gang rape. Patten and her team also visited the occupied West Bank, where she said she received “disturbing” information from recently released Palestinian detainees and civil society organisations about “threats of rape and prolonged forced nudity” in detention settings. Patten also warns about “a huge spike” of sexual violence in the war-ridden Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, that the UN receives reports on but is unable to verify. She will present her annual report to the United Nations Security Council this month.

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This podcast has been published as part of a partnership between and Asymmetrical Haircuts, a podcast on international justice produced from The Hague by journalists Janet Anderson and Stephanie van den Berg, who retain full control and independence over the contents of the podcast.

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