LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rape is cheaper than bullets and is the weapon of choice for many armed groups. It has the power to destroy entire communities – as well as individual victims’ lives – and instil fear across regions.
There has been a growing international focus on sexual violence in conflict and what can be done to end this terrible crime, but how much do we actually know about it?
Here are five myths around the issue:
1. Rape is used as a weapon of war in most conflicts.
Sexual violence is not the weapon of choice for many armed groups and only occurs in some conflicts.
The widespread use of rape by armed groups and the brutal form it can take was evident in Rwanda, Bosnia and eastern Congo. However, the majority of conflicts involve very low levels or no sexual violence, according to a study by researchers from Harvard and the Peace Research Institute Oslo.
2. Sexual violence increases during conflicts.
Not necessarily. The problem is we do not actually know because surveys usually look at the numbers of people reporting a rape and focus on displacement camps, not the population as a whole.
Furthermore, levels of sexual violence are not usually measured before a war starts, so there is no baseline for comparison.
3. Only women are victims of sexual violence in war.
Actually men are victims, too. It is an invisible side of war because men are usually even more reluctant to say what has happened to them than women.
One recent report found that more than one in three male refugees from eastern Congo had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Male rape has been reported in 29 different war zones since 1998, but more research needs to be done on this.
4. Only men carry out sexual violence.
There has been even less research on this than on male victims of rape, but there have been reports of female soldiers or rebels inflicting sexual violence on both men and women, and it may be more common than previously thought.
In a survey carried out in 2010 in eastern Congo, female victims of sexual violence said that 41 percent of their attackers had been female, and male victims said 10 percent of their attackers had been female.
5. In a war, armed men are the main perpetrators of rape.
A public gang rape by armed men is more likely to hit the headlines than a woman raped by her husband in her own home.
Two studies by International Rescue Committee found that most women seeking help in conflict zones had in fact been raped by someone they knew.
One study in eastern Congo between 2009 and 2012, found that 18 percent of reported cases of sexual violence had been carried out by intimate partners, 45 percent by community members including teachers, employers and service providers, and just 37 percent by armed groups.
In Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia, more than 60 percent of survivors seeking help reported violence at the hands of an intimate partner or spouse.