Documenting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

About Your Initiative

Sexual and gender-based violence takes place across the peacetime-wartime continuum: regardless of the nation, the context, the social or political backdrop, or the time in history. From being seen as a byproduct of war to being understood as a war tactic, the prevalence of sexual violence is more than mere statistics. This project attempts to map the prevalence of sexual violence across the peacetime-wartime continuum.  

Until over two decades ago, sexual violence in armed conflict was considered a byproduct of war. Little research went into understanding the extent of its prevalence, much less into acknowledging its systemic nature across conflict zones. Following the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and the Yugoslav wars, the world learned of how sexual violence was carried out in a systemic, planned fashion to attack whole communities at a time. Even as jurisprudence grew with the emergence of legal interpretations in, for example, the Akayesu case before the ICTR, precious little translated to action on ground.

Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence continue to wait for justice across the world. For reasons ranging from the lack of amnesty to the lack of judicial mechanisms, such narratives continue to remain unaddressed. Sexual violence exists across a peacetime-wartime continuum. This means that factors within the personal/private and the public domains operate as enablers for some sexual violence: whether that is domestic violence within the home or sexual violence in war.

To dismantle this structural violence, truth telling is vital. One step in this direction is documenting sexual violence. To keep these truths alive in the accessible collective memory is to memorialize the truth, because all truth is actionable. To tell these stories beyond merely numbers, is to establish a firm commitment to actioning the documentation of major human rights violations that must not be forgotten. As Jane Mukunizwa, a staff member at the City of Joy in the DR Congo mentioned to Christina Lamb, who carries this in her book Our Bodies Their Battlefield:

“I want you to tell people what you have seen. Some of our politicians say we don’t have sexual violence but it’s not true, there are still now girls being raped every day, girls from all different areas, and all have the same story. Please be our voice because we can’t reach your country. When I hear our government saying there is no sexual violence here, it’s like they are stamping their foot on a wound. It’s not just rape, it’s what it leaves behind.”

The images I will use with this project will be images of fabric from each of the regions where conflict-related sexual violence takes place - to suggest how the crime destroys the fabric of society by targeting women's bodies.

Who is being impacted by my initiative?

Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, transitional justice mechanisms