Violence: A Fact Sheet
Sexual violence is pervasive throughout the world. Nearly
one in four women experiences sexual violence by an intimate
partner during her life, and as many as one-third of all
girls are forced into their first sexual experience (WHO
World Report on Violence and Health, 2002). Each year, hundreds
of thousands of women are forced into prostitution, and thousands
of young girls are genitally mutilated. In armed conflicts,
countless women and girls are raped and sexually abused by
security forces and opposition groups as an act of war, and
often face additional violence in refugee camps. Government
sponsored violence also exists in peacetime, with women assaulted
while in policy custody, in prison, and at the hands of any
number of state actors. )
According to the World Health Organization, sexual
violence encompasses the following
- Rape within marriage, in dating relationships, and by
- Systematic rape during armed conflict
- Unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment, including
demanding sex in return for favors
- Forced marriage or cohabitation, including the marriage
- Forced abortion
- Denial of the right to use contraception or to adopt other
measures to protect against sexually transmitted diseases
- Violent acts against the sexual integrity of women, including
female genital mutilation and obligatory inspections for
- Forced prostitution and trafficking of people for the
purpose of sexual exploitation
Sexual Violence: Rooted in Discrimination
Sexual violence against women is rooted in a global culture of discrimination,
which denies women equal rights with men, and which legitimizes and sexualizes
the violent appropriation of women's bodies for individual gratification or
for political ends. Social and cultural norms that deny women equal rights
with men render women more vulnerable to sexual abuse. In many cases, sexist
policies and practices aggravate the violence women experience and increase
women's vulnerability to further violence, as these policies often deny women
effective recourse and force women to remain in violent situations. Sexual
violence does not exist in isolation. Rather, it is compounded by discrimination
on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual identity, social status, religion,
class, caste, and age, all of which may place women at an increased risk of
violence. Such discrimination involves the denial of basic social and economic
rights and restricts women's access to justice.
Sexual Violence in Human Rights Documents
Sexual violence violates international human rights standards. It is a form
of assault that results in physical and psychological trauma and injury. Medical
consequences are dire and may include death, injury, unwanted pregnancy, infertility,
chronic and life-threatening diseases, as well as a host of emotional and mental
health issues including depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction.
- CEDAW General Recommendation 19 specifically defines violence
against women and girls as a form of discrimination. This "includes
acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering,
threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of
- The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against
Women defines violence against women as "any act of
gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result
in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to
women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary
deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in
- The Rome Statue recognizes rape and sexual violence by
combatants in the conduct of armed conflict as war crimes.
Under this statute, sexual violence can be considered a crime
against humanity, and in some cases constitutes an element
Sexual Violence by State Agents and Armed Groups
According to international human rights standards, states are obligated to
stop sexual violence when it is perpetrated by the state or by agents of
Sexual violence against women was reported in almost every
armed conflict investigated by Amnesty International
in 1999 and 2000. Rape is a weapon of war that is systematically
employed for a variety of purposes, including intimidation,
humiliation, political terror, extracting information, rewarding soldiers,
and "ethnic cleansing." The Rome Statute of the International
Criminal Court recognizes that rape in conflict situations is a war crime
and a crime against humanity. In addition to armed opposition groups,
women living in conflict situations are routinely subject to sexual violence
at the hands of security forces and even peacekeeping troops.
Women who flee to refugee camps to avoid political, economic, social, cultural,
religious or ethnic persecution often become subject to sexual abuse, both
while they are in transit and when they arrive at refugee camps. Women often
become victims of rape and sexual violence at the hands of security forces,
border guards, locals, smugglers, and other refugees. Camp guards and male
refugees may look upon unaccompanied women and girls as common sexual property.
Women in Custody
The punishment of incarceration for women is often compounded
by rape, sexual assault, and groping during body searches.
Women are frequently coerced into providing sex for "favors" such
as extra food or personal hygiene products, or to avoid
punishment by correctional officials. Victims are often
reluctant to report such abuses as they anticipate that their accusations
will be disregarded, and for fear of retaliation from the perpetrators.
Many cases of sexual violence during armed conflicts occur
under conditions of slavery. Women are enslaved for the
sexual gratification of state agents, during which time
they are denied the rights of autonomy or bodily integrity.
One of the most prominent examples of sexual slavery was the system of
rape camps organized by the Japanese Imperial Army during
World War II, where more than 200,000 women and girls
were enslaved in "comfort stations" throughout
Asia. Sexual slavery and exploitation by security forces and armed opposition
groups has long been documented in all parts of the world.
Sexual Violence in the Home and Community
Contrary to much popular opinion, the majority of sexual abuse occurs inside
the home or community of the victim. States have an obligation to respond
to violence occurring in the private sphere as vigilantly as in the public
sphere. States are required to prevent, investigate, prosecute and ensure
adequate reparation for abuses, whether perpetrated by state or private actors,
under the legal concepts of due diligence and equal protection under the
Sexual exploitation of domestic workers
Domestic workers, many of whom are foreign nationals, frequently
face sexual abuse from their employers. Women who have
entered the country without documentation, or who have
been trafficked and robbed of their papers, often cannot
seek legal redress for the abuses they have suffered.
Their immigration status does not give them the right
to change employment, and if they leave the abusive employer
they become "illegal immigrants" and become
subject to persecution by the law. These women are thus
bonded to their employers and essentially live as slaves,
a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Marriage often serves to legitimize a range of abuses. Women who are subjected
to marital rape in the home are traumatized and isolated. Frequently the
state does not recognize sexual violence within a marriage situation as a
crime. This influences perceptions of such violence. In Amnesty International's
2002 report on Kenya, many interviewees said that they considered this abuse
as part of a normal life and even as a sign of love. Many states reinforce
this notion, evidenced by the fact that currently only 27 countries have
legislation that criminalizes marital rape.
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation is the removal of part or all of the female genitalia.
In its most severe form, a woman or girl has all of her genitalia removed
and then stitched together, leaving a small opening for intercourse and menstruation.
This procedure often results in infection, shock, hemorrhaging, abscesses,
benign nerve tumors, cysts, excess scar tissue, chronic urinary tract and
pelvic infections, permanent injury during birth, maternal death, and sterility.
An estimated 135 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation,
and two million girls a year are at risk - approximately 6,000 per day.
Trafficking in Women/Forced Prostitution
Women are recruited on false pretenses, coerced, transported,
and bought and sold for a range of exploitative purposes
including sex tourism and forced marriage. Women who
are trafficked for sexual exploitation are often sexually
abused and raped to break them mentally and emotionally, in order to
force them into sex work. Many are beaten and raped to
punish them for trying to escape or for refusing to have
sex for money. Despite the risks of HIV/AIDS, women are
often punished for refusing unprotected sex. Trafficking
and forced prostitution is internationally recognized
as a human rights violation, with the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
specifically requiring states to "suppress all forms of traffic
in women and exploitation of prostitution of women" (Article 6).
Problems of Impunity
Perpetrators of sexual violence against women are rarely held accountable for
their acts. Many victims of sexual violence have little recourse, as state
agencies often operate within a system of gender bias and discriminatory
practices. Many women who do report cases of sexual violence are ostracized
by their communities, which blame and mistreat victims of sexual abuses.
Others still do not report intimate partners for fear of reprisal, which
may include physical abuse, economic privation, and losing custody of children.
Instances and acceptance of sexual violence against women are so deeply embedded
in society that it often fails to garner public censure and outrage.
Sexual violence against women is a human rights
violation that cannot be justified by any political, social,
religious, or cultural claim. A global culture of discrimination
against women allows sexual violence to occur daily and
with impunity. Amnesty International calls on you to help
us eradicate violence against women in all its forms and
to help every woman to achieve a life of equality and human
For more information on women's human
rights, visit http://www.amnestyusa.org/women or
contact us at AIUSA, 322 Eighth Avenue New York, NY 10001 or
at (212) 633-4292.