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SEXUAL VIOLENCE: A WEAPON OF WAR

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Like, I am sure, everyone who's following the horrific events taking place in Ukraine, I have been horrified by the continuing reports of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian Soldiers against Ukrainian women. It is beginning to emerge that, alongside bombs and guns, rape is also a weapon of warfare.


The scale of the sexual violence is impossible to know. In the best of times, it’s very difficult for victims to report abuse. Sadly, victims are often made to feel both guilty and ashamed when admitting that they’ve been raped. There’s also the issue of reliving past trauma; many women who’ve suffered abuse are doing their best to move past the event. This can make reporting sexual violence very upsetting.


Historically, women have been viewed as the spoils of war. This attitude, quite clearly, needs to change; it has led to the opportunistic rape of many women by invading soldiers. What is perhaps more disturbing is the suggestion that sexual violence in Ukraine is not opportunistic. Some have argued that rape culture is being deliberately perpetuated in the military, in order to increase the trauma of invasion and decrease the moral of its victims.

I am reluctant to go into details about the cases which have recently been reported in Ukraine. One of the most shocking ones has been the systematic rape of 25 girls and women in the basement of a house in Bucha. Nine of these women are now pregnant. I’m sure we can all agree that action needs to be taken to try and prosecute the rapists. Unfortunately, as far as I’m aware, there have been no successfully prosecuted cases of rape in the context of armed conflict in Ukraine.


Pramila Patten is the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She is arguing that cases of sexual violence in Ukraine should be tried by the international court. This would mean that Russian soldiers who have committed the crime of rape would be answerable to the court system of any nation through universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction can happen when a crime is committed, not against an individual, but against humanity at large. Because of this, the country where the event took place is irrelevant, and perpetrators can be tried by any court system. I admire Ms. Patten’s efforts, and can only hope that action such as this can be taken against the criminals.


I hate to end this article on a hopeless note, but to do otherwise would be insulting to the Ukrainians who are suffering at the hands of Russian soldiers. It seems that we have become complacent, thinking that rape is no longer a part of modern warfare. The conflict in Ukraine has shown us that little to no progress has been made in that department. Putin is dismissing complaints of sexual violence as lies. This means that, unless the international court is able to get involved, there will likely be no consequences for the rapists of Ukrainian women. The only real option left to the victims is to accept that they will never receive justice, and to learn to live with the trauma of their experience. Too often, this is all that’s available to women who have been the victims of sexual violence. We need to do better.


- Emily Handel

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