Report challenges conventional wisdom on rape in war on International Day of the Girl Child

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda pledges to include gender crimes and crimes against children in ICC charges, while a report from a research group in Canada argues that the greatest source of wartime sexual violence is ignored.


  1. In 2011, the United Nations formally declared October 11, 2012 as the International Day of the Girl Child, noting that girls are "key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence." To mark the day, Fatou Bensouda released a statement noting that "the suffering of girls in armed conflicts all over the world is an urgent issue and a top priority for me as ICC Prosecutor."
  2. "Girls are among the most vulnerable members of society: they should not be made to serve as sex slaves and soldiers," she said. "They should not be subjected to rape and sexual violence, nor made to witness brutal sexual attacks. In accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, I shall continue to include gender crimes and crimes against children in our charges and to bring the full force of the law to bear on those most responsible for them."

    Bensouda's full statement is here: 
  3. While no one can argue with Bensouda's desire to prosecute rape and sexual violence to the fullest possible extent by including it in future International Criminal Court charges, the facts and myths about rape in conflict situations was challenged by the Human Security Report 2012 which claimed that the mainstream narrative on wartime sexual violence which assumed that conflict-related sexual violence was on the rise, and that rape was increasingly being deployed as a “weapon of war”, was not correct. 
  4. The report was written by the team at the Human Security Report Project, an independent research centre affiliated with Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, Canada. 
    Their twitter account is here: 
  5. And the report is available here:
  6. And, here's the Associated Press story which outlines the basics. 
  7. The reaction in the academic and journalistic communities was rather swift. Laura Seay, a Morehouse College political scientist who studies community and NGO responses to state failure and conflict in central Africa and who tweets at @texasinafrica, noted that the "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." 
    Seay outlined some key 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.

    Her full blog post on the report is here: 
  8. Seay noted that "these findings are obviously controversial and I have no doubt that they will inspire a lively debate." And they did. In Oxfam's response, Ed Cairns, Oxfam's Senior Policy Adviser, Research, admitted that "Like many NGO workers probably, I read its summary with mounting irritation." 

    "So just why is it so irritating? And why do some of its headline findings jar with the visceral experience of so many humanitarian workers in the field?" 

    Cairns argued that it may be because "while last year's World Development Report showed that conflict and violence drive poverty more than ever, the Human Security Reports seem driven by a different agenda: to show that war isn't as bad as we thought." Here's Cairns' blog post: 
  9. Megan MacKenzie, a lecturer of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, Australia, was far more critical, though she has yet to compose a longer post on the report. On Twitter, the author of Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Sex, Security and Post-Conflict Development wrote that: 
  10. She added some advice for the authors: 
  11. While the Human Security Report made the point that...
  12. ...MacKenzie was unmoved. 
  13. She also pointed readers a response by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). That response was written by Madeleine Rees, WILPF's Secreteray General who served as the Head of the Women’s Rights and Gender Unit for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights between September 2006 to April 2010. Here's Rees' blog post: