A new report from the Women and Foreign Policy program and the Center for Preventive Action, launched this week, highlights the global security threat posed by conflict-related sexual violence and outlines policy steps that the U.S. government should take to prevent and respond to such violence.
Armies and armed groups in conflicts around the world often subject noncombatants—particularly women and children—to sexual violence, such as rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage. Despite international recognition of this devastating abuse as a crime against humanity, sexual violence continues to plague conflicts from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Syria. The practice has also proliferated among extremist groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who use sexual violence as a tactic of terror and a form of currency in a shadow economy. And most recently, Burmese government forces reportedly have committed ethnically motivated rape and gang rape against women and girls amid escalating conflict in the Rakhine State. Rights groups assert that this sexual violence is not random or opportunistic, but is rather part of a systematic attack against the Rohingya minority.
Sexual violence in conflict is not simply a gross violation of human rights—it is also a security challenge. Wartime rape fuels displacement, weakens governance, and destabilizes communities, thereby inhibiting postconflict reconciliation and imperiling long-term stability.
Combating conflict-related sexual violence thus merits a higher place on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Although the U.S. government has taken modest steps to address sexual violence in conflict under successive Republican and Democratic administrations, more action is needed.
The new report suggests that the current administration should require training on conflict-related sexual violence in U.S. security cooperation efforts; expand the number of women serving in militaries, police, and peacekeeping forces around the world; increase accountability for the crime of sexual violence; and undermine terrorist financing streams raised through the abduction of women and children. These steps will help the United States and its allies respond effectively to the security threat posed by conflict-related sexual violence and advance U.S. interests in peace and stability.