realities of rape in war
The Simon Fraser University Human Security Report for 2011/12 is out. This year's edition focuses on sexual violence in war, and the findings are astonishing. Essentially, SFU found that the data shows much of the conventional wisdom on such issues as rape as a weapon of war, who is committing rape in wartime, and negative effects on education is completely wrong. Among the report's findings:
- Conflicts in which extreme sexual violence is committed (think DRC) are exceptional outliers, not the norm.
- While reporting of sexual violence in wartime has increased, there is no evidence to support the oft-repeated-by-high-level-UN-officials claim that incidences of wartime sexual violence are increasing.
- Strategic rape incidences, aka "rape as a weapon of war" are not increasing, either.
- Domestic (household & intimate partner) sexual violence is by far the most prevalent form of sexual and gender-based violence in wartime.
- Male victims and female perpetrators of rape in wartime may be greater than previously believed.
- That statistic that 3 in 4 Liberian women were victims of sexual violence during the country's war? No evidence whatsoever for the claim. The real rate of lifetime sexual violence in Liberia is more like 18% - exactly the same as the rate of SGBV in the United States - which means it's impossible that 75% of women were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted during the wars.
- There is no evidence to support the UN claim that sexual violence committed against children in conflict-affected countries is increasing.
- Conflict doesn't have a net negative effect on educational outcomes.
These findings are obviously controversial and I have no doubt that they will inspire a lively debate. However, having read over the methodology and evidence presented in the report, it's hard to find grounds on which to dispute most of these claims. The evidence is solid.
Wisely, the SFU researchers use their findings to point to the importance of narrative creation and its role in policy development. As we have seen time and time again in DRC, when the narrative about a conflict and its nature is wrong, policies are often ineffective. In this case, policies based on repeated slogans and incorrect statistics means that too many aid dollars may be directed to victims who don't need that much help, while money is unavailable to assist those who do. All in all, this Human Security Report is a well-argued plea for policy to be evidence-based. We'd all do well to heed those warnings.