Wartime sexual violence on the decline: study

Wartime sexual violence is uncommon worldwide and likely on the decline, Canadian researchers said Wednesday in a report, challenging the notion that rape is increasingly used as a weapon.

A woman who was raped by eight men belonging to an armed group in 2007 sits on a bench in a refuge in the DR Congo. Wartime sexual violence is uncommon worldwide and likely on the decline, researchers say, noting that rape and other abuses "continue to pose a grave threat," but that horrific crimes committed in the DR Congo, Rwanda, and several other countries are "the exceptions, not the rule."

The study by the Human Security Report Project, a research center affiliated with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, criticized non-governmental organizations and the media for suggesting that extreme abuses were the norm.

"Indirect evidence suggests (the incidence of wartime sexual violence) has declined worldwide over the past two decades," said the 84-page report called "Sexual Violence, Education and War: Beyond the Mainstream Narrative."

It noted that rape and other wartime sexual abuses "continue to pose a grave threat," citing horrific crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan's Darfur region, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Bosnia.

But researchers concluded the incidents in those countries were "the exceptions, not the rule."

"The large majority of sexual violence is domestic in origin, perpetrated by family members or close acquaintances -- not by rebels, militias or government troops," said the report, which was released at the United Nations.

"Media reporting too often portrays wartime sexual violence in the worst affected countries in a way that suggests that the extreme abuses that generate news headlines are the norm. They are not," it said.

Researchers said a focus on sexual violence by UN officials and non-governmental organizations concentrates scarce funding on programs to tackle the relatively rare problem.

"In a highly competitive environment -- made competitive by great needs and inadequate funding -- exaggeration not only pays, it is sometimes the only thing that will dislodge funding from donors who themselves have too few resources and too many supplicants," the report said.

Meanwhile, it said, victims of domestic sexual crimes -- and less-common sexual crimes against men -- are neglected, even though in war-torn zones, such crimes are "far more pervasive than the conflict-related sexual violence."

"Nobody would deny that there are conflicts where sexual violence is being used expressly as a political weapon," the director of the Human Security Report Project, Andrew Mack, told a press conference at the UN in New York.

"But in other conflicts, what is assumed to be strategic is not strategic but opportunistic," he said.

Mack said the distinction was important, as military chiefs could face sanctions or prosecution if they were found to have ordered or authorized their soldiers to commit rape.

Better and less-biased information is needed to develop policies, including diplomatic peacemaking, which the report said has been proven to be effective.

"Peace agreements today are more stable than is usually assumed," it said.

Researchers also said, citing a World Bank study, that education levels in war-torn countries often do not decline due to direct consequences of the conflict, such as the destruction of schools, but due to the weakness of state institutions.

"The deadliness of warfare has declined over the last 50 to 60 years, and there are now significantly fewer armed conflicts around the world than during the peak of the early 1990s," the report said.

The Human Security Report Project is funded by agencies in Britain, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UBS Optimus Foundation.

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