COVID-19 intensifies ‘brutal crime’ of sexual violence in conflict 

19 June 2020

Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is “a brutal crime” that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN chief underscored on Friday, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Mainly perpetrated against women and girls, CRSV also affects men and boys.

“It reverberates throughout communities and societies, perpetuating cycles of violence and threatening international peace and security”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the day.

And the already dramatically under-reported crime has been buried further by the coronavirus during national lockdowns, limiting the ability of survivors to report incidents, further intensifying existing structural, institutional and socio-cultural barriers to reporting the crimes. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages through regions of the world suffering through armed struggle, Mr. Guterres commended “frontline staff who are finding ways to support those affected, despite lockdowns and quarantines”.

“On this International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we stand in solidarity with survivors”, he continued, vowing to “listen to them and act on their experiences and decisions”.

The UN chief concluded with the words: “We must prevent and end these crimes; place survivors at the centre of our response; hold perpetrators accountable; and expand support for all those affected”.

Combatting CRSV crimes

Combatting impunity for sexual violence is central in deterring and preventing CRSV crimes. It is also an essential component in redress for victims. 
Among many other aspects, COVID-19 is significantly and detrimentally impacting the rule of law, including by limiting the availability and capacity of law enforcement and judicial authorities to respond to CRSV. 

Moreover, the pandemic hinders the processing of reports on incidents of sexual violence and risks deprioritizing services needed by survivors, including in shelters, health care services, police and justice sector services. 

Help obscured

Closed shelters, cancelled counselling services and diverted resources are also severely impacting a range of medical, psychosocial and legal services required to support CRSV survivors. 

And fear of the virus spreading adds to barrier in accessing services. 

Survivors of sexual violence may be less willing to seek help because of perceived risks of contracting COVID-19, fearing infection and potentially transmitting the virus to their families. 

Noorulhuda Nadheer
Detail from a work of art by Noorulhuda Nadheer.

Lockdown violence 

Stay-at-home restrictions have also contributed to an increase in domestic and gender-based violence. 

Women and girls already in abusive situations are more exposed to increased control and abuse, with little or no recourse to seek support. 

Marking the occasion

On this sixth official observance of the International Day, a virtual event was co-hosted on Friday by the UN Offices on Sexual Violence in Conflict and for Children and Armed Conflict, along with Argentina’s Mission to the UN.

Among other things, it outlined the toll of the coronavirus on the lives of survivors, delivery of services and the UN’s work as a whole. 

The Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, told the meeting that “the current crisis is a test of our resolve”.

“We must not allow it to reverse the gains we have made in recent decades to combat gender-based discrimination as a root cause of gender-based violence in times of war and peace”, she said.  

Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, noted that while COVID-19 is impacting her office’s monitoring, reporting and verification capacity, teams on the ground are “evaluating the situation and developing mitigation measures”.

“It is critical that we do not forget children affected by armed conflict when responding to the pandemic”, underscored the UN envoy, maintaining that the “protection, release and reintegration” of children “remains more important than ever”.

 

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