“Our responsibility is not only to help the victims, but to help ensure there are no more victims”

4 October 2022
The office of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict has put together a Framework for the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence.

Based on the idea that what is not understood cannot be effectively prevented, the Framework “consolidates key findings from academic research and leading scholars in the field, to deepen our collective awareness of the causes and consequences of conflict-related sexual violence.”

The Framework is also meant as a complement to ‘programmatic work’ addressing conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). From the introduction and across the document, emphasis is placed on compliance and concrete commitments rather than declarations.

Definition and causes

The United Nations Secretary- General defines CRSV “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls, or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.” It also warns against approaching CRSV “as a single phenomenon because it has many forms, perpetrators, and survivor profiles, and can happen at different frequencies across contexts.”

The Framework distinguishes the root causes of CRSV (gender-based violence, driven by gender inequality and power imbalances) and ‘risk factors’ which may “accelerate the speed at which the event happens or the severity of its impacts”.

These factors are identified at an individual level – a person’s sex, gender identity, position or age, all of which can be intersectional – and contextual, due to the drivers of armed conflict itself. For example, political, economic and social inequalities; human rights violations; extreme poverty, etc.

The Framework proposes an approach to prevention around two aspects: the prevention of occurrence of CRSV, and the prevention of further impact once the violence has occurred.

Prevention of occurrence

In a table, the Framework summarizes preventive actions on a supranational, institutional/structural, community- and individual-level.

It then exposes several thematic findings, among which:

  • The reiteration that preventing CRSV is embedded in gender inequality.
  • The presence of arms and light weapons emboldens actors to commit crimes, including sexual violence. A growth in military spending may also facilitate their commission.
  • Laws can have preventative value. On the one hand, as a reaffirmation of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviours, and on the other hand as a prerequisite for future accountability efforts. The document notes that “unfortunately, domestic legal frameworks are often inadequate to comprehensively address conflict-related sexual violence.”
  • The importance of early warning systems to “measure risks through a set of indicators that can be targeted and then (to mitigate them) by preventative action”.

Prevention of further impact

The other prong of a prevention approach is ensuring that CRSV does not lead to further harm or consequences. This includes “both near-term response to recent injury to an individual survivor, as well as longer-term efforts to rebuild and sustain peace at the community level.”

After the same table listing actions on a supranational, institutional/structural, community- and individual-level, the thematic findings on the prevention of further impact includes

  • The importance of survivor support “delivered in a survivor-centred, trauma-informed manner and that they can be accessed by the full spectrum of potential survivors, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
  • Survivors of trafficking have specific needs and require specific forms of support, protection, and redress.
  • Children born of wartime rape are often exposed to stigma, abandonment and other harms. Mothers too are at risk of experiencing shame, isolation, hardship or exploitation. Preventing these risks is key not only on an individual, but on a community level too.
  • The importance of accountability, not only to limit future harm by perpetrators but to offer some survivors a sense of justice.

The Framework ends with reminders about survivor-centered approaches, emphasizing among others, the importance of multi-level engagement, of the involvement of varied actors, of cooperation and coordination between States and, when possible, the participation of survivors themselves in designing solutions.

Read the Framework

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